Fatherlessness: The root cause of income inequality

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/11/fatherlessness-the-root-cause-of-income-inequality/

During the last several years, there has been a growing chorus from progressive politicians and intellectuals about income inequality in America. Numerous books and studies purport to show that the American dream of economic mobility is now an illusion — that movement up the economic ladder is difficult, if not impossible.

The repeated use of the “income inequality” mantra is, of course, designed to pressure our political leaders to enact policies that re-distribute wealth and income.  The focus is not on growing the economic pie for all Americans, but on cutting it up into ever smaller pieces.

But before politicians enact policies that will move America even closer to the European-style welfare system — a system in which economic growth has almost stalled and economic and social mobility is rare — they should consider some of the causes of income inequality here at home.

One significant cause of income inequality in America is, arguably, our generous immigration policy, which since 1970 has welcomed to our shores 35-million legal immigrants — the majority without financial assets and with very modest earning power.

But there is no question that a primary cause of income inequality among native-born Americans is the astonishing breakdown of the traditional two-parent family.

Chart courtesy of the Department of HHS

Chart courtesy of the Department of HHS

Data from the Census Bureau, analyzed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shows that gulf in income between married-couple households and fatherless families is enormous.  In fact, in 2013, the poverty rate among children in female-headed families with no spouse present was 45.8 percent — more than four times that of children in married-couple families (9.5 percent).

As noted political scientist Charles Murray explains in his book, ‘Coming Apart,’ “[o]ver the last half century, marriage has become the fault line dividing American classes.”

But it is not just conservatives who recognize that fatherlessness and poverty go hand in hand.  Even Barack Obama has made a point of noting on more than one occasion that “children who grow up without a father … are five times more likely to live in poverty and nine times more likely to drop out of school” than children with fathers in the home.

How does the demise of the two-parent family play out in Massachusetts?

Chart courtesy of MFI; data source: National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)

Chart courtesy of MFI; data source: National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)

Despite the heroic efforts by many single mothers (and the success of many), the statistics clearly demonstrate the economic void that results when a father is not present in the home.

According to data analyzed by the Massachusetts Family Institute, in 2013, married-couple families in Massachusetts had a median annual income of more than $114,376 — almost 75 percent higher than the $26,999 median annual income for Massachusetts female-headed households with children.  The rate of child poverty in Massachusetts homes where the mother has never been married is even worse — 51 percent of these children live at or below the poverty line.

As the graph to the right demonstrates, the problem is particularly acute in our larger cities:

This is, quite simply, a tragedy. Many of these fatherless children will never have a chance to realize the American dream.

How can this be the case in our Commonwealth?  And what can we do about it?

Chart courtesy of MFI; data source: US Bureau of the Census

Chart courtesy of MFI; data source: US Bureau of the Census

Contrary to conventional wisdom, redistributing wealth to urban communities and increasing government spending on the poor will do little to close the income gap.

But enacting policies that promote and support two-parent families will.

Our ability to change public policy when it comes to marriage, of course, depends upon numerous social and cultural factors.  We can begin by acknowledging that the two-parent family is the ideal building block for success and by speaking out about the importance of fathers.

While having a man in the house does not a guarantee economic stability, the statistics are clear: when children are raised by two committed, responsible parents, they have a much better chance of achieving the American dream.

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