Saturday, October 04, 2008

Kim Jong Il, You Betcha

A friend imagined a conversation between the Governor of Alaska and the Dear Leader of North Korea.

Well gosh darn it Mr. Kim Jong, you betcha we're still all riled up about them POW's we left back there and the veterans and American people are just gonna say we've had it with all the evil regimes and nucular weapons bein' the end all and the be all and now you're dealin' with a couple of mavericks. In my country we have a sayin' about pit bulls and hockey, now I don't know if you have hockey over there in Asia but here in America, Joe Six-pack loves his hockey. You know, I was on vacation in Seattle once, and I'm pretty sure I could see parts of Asia, lookin' out across the ocean there, so don't think you can sneak up on us, 'cause there are Americans in Seattle lookin' up at the skies just waitin' for one of your jets or one of those doggone missiles, and the American people are just gonna say no more. No more, you know, of the evil regimes and the nucular weapons and them WMD's. You're dealin' with a Maverick now in John McCain and he knows how to win a war, you betcha.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Lost Generation of Black Family Research Since the Moynihan Report

My family class spent the past month reading research about black families. A student said today that she felt bad writing her paper on the subject, because it seemed like just bashing black families, especially black men. While we have read some encouraging news, especially about the achievement of the married black middle class, most of what we have read is a long litany of decline.

This got me reflecting about what might have been. In 1965, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan produced The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, he pointed out that the black illegitimacy rate had reached 25%, compared to a white rate of about a quarter of that. Moynihan argued that, now that the foundations of legal segregation had been demolished, it was time to work on the other social facts that threatened to hold back African Americans in the future. High on his list was family structure, something few others noticed at the time.

As anyone who has studied black families knows, Moynihan was subjected to a firestorm of criticism for suggesting that there was anything amiss with black family life. The phrase "blaming the victim" was invented to excoriate this report. As a result, it became taboo to study black families for a generation. The work written until the late '80s tended to praise the strengths of black families and hail their alternative cultural arrangements.

Then the empirical struck back. The conditions of black families, and other families, had gotten so bad that political correctness could not fend off reality. A flood of studies followed, which quickly discovered that during the lost generation, the black illegitimacy rate had gone from a scary 25% to a disasterous 70%.

In those lost decades it would have been very unpleasant to point out that things were getting much worse for black families, mostly due to the choices of black people themselves. This would have seemed like "bashing." But if we had been willing to research the facts and face the hard truth, perhaps the movement to restore black marriage might have started sooner. Perhaps we could have halted the decline before fatherlessness became the norm for African American children.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Black Teen Moms of the '60s Have Less Sympathy for Black Teen Moms Today

Katrina Bell McDonald and Elizabeth M. Armstrong of Johns Hopkins University went to a group of women who had been studied in a 1960s teen mothers study, and resurveyed at intervals since then. In 1996, on the eve of the current era of welfare reform, they asked these women, now in their 40s, to compare their experiences with those of teen mothers today - some of whom were their own daughters. In fact, 77% were already grandmothers, and 18% lived with their grandchildren.

The consensus of the women interviewed was that black teen moms don’t get the support today that these teen moms got in the ‘60s because teen pregnancy has been normalized in the poor black community. The community doesn’t rally 'round today they way they did then, because having babies seems less like a crisis for the family and more like a choice by the mothers. The older generation particularly disapproved of underclass culture; the former teen moms do not see themselves as having been part of the underclass. They think teen moms today (just pre-welfare reform) had become welfare-dependent in a way that ‘60s teen moms were not, when welfare offered less.

Like many grandparents, the women studied here thought that kids today are worse than they had been, so they have less sympathy for the younger generation's self-induced crisis. The former teen moms liked welfare reform because they thought it would make today’s teen moms more self-reliant.

Paradoxically, this self-reliance would, I think, make the former teen moms more willing to help.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Unexpected Black Drug Use Finding

A student just brought an old study by Cheryl Amey and Stan Albrecht to my attention.

They found that

“Although both white and Latino adolescents from two-biological-parent families are less likely to use drugs than their counterparts from differently structured families, Black youths who come from similar two-parent families are among the most likely users of both alcohol and marijuana.”

Amey and Albrecht don't have a good explanation for this, and neither do I. My best guess is that the black two-parent families have fewer married parents than the white and Latino two-parent families. The black marriage rate is so low that it is common in studies like this to conflate married and cohabiting black parents. Cohabitors, especially cohabiting fathers, are less likely to discipline kids strictly than married fathers are.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Welfare Reform Plan

In response to an earlier post on welfare reform, I got a thoughtful question from Ari at NYU. I started to write back to him directly, but the thought his question inspired led me to develop a new post in the ongoing GC dialogue.

At this point I am inclined to abolish welfare altogether. The Earned Income Tax Credit is really a much more effective and politically feasible kind of poor support. If we expanded EITC, provided basic medical care for poor people, and some supplements for child care, we could eliminate welfare for able-bodied people, period. The truly disabled could be absorbed into Supplemental Security Income. The lazy would sponge off their mothers.

Your question, though, was about fathers. I think the crucial failing of all father-involvement programs thus far, especially those aimed at black fathers, has been that they are unwilling to push marriage. They cite the low employment rate, high rate of committing crimes and getting caught, and other obstacles to poor fathers marrying and supporting their families. The most important fact about marriage and fatherhood for men, though, is that it tends to change them into productive people. Waiting for men to get responsible first, then having them marry, will not work with many men, especially those already on the track to poverty. Simply being willing to say it, to use the bully pulpit in every way to push parents to marry for the sake of their children, would help change the climate.

There are many couples with children who are waiting until they save enough money to have a wedding. This is sick. See my posts on "Marry Your Baby Daddy."

If we are to keep welfare, the next strongest step down, I think, would be temporary sterilization of the mother and father for as long as they receive welfare. The "temporary" is the crucial word here - Norplant works, and was only squeezed out for political reasons. A male equivalent could easily be developed. Getting welfare would depend on identifying the father, who would also be subject to temporary sterilization. If she was unwilling to identify the father, or he was unwilling to cooperate, she could only get, say, half the benefits. Equally important in this plan is that it only applies to people on welfare. If you are not asking the taxpayers to foot the bill, you can pursue any foolish plan you want, just as you can now.

At this point we come to the chasm of the politically feasible. The basic fact is that you can't make people think and live like the bourgeoisie. If they don't live their lives by planning ahead, deferring gratification, working now to reap benefits later, then showing them the benefits they could get later from planning ahead now are mostly to no avail. The part of welfare reform that works is that you have to get a job or lose your benefits now. The part of welfare reform that would work with the middle-class welfare reformers, but will not work so well with most welfare recipients, is the lifetime limit on getting welfare. They take what they can get today, and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. They are survivors, not planners. If they were planners, most wouldn't be on welfare in the first place.

Given this fact, one good thing we can do is de-racialize the welfare discussion. Most people on welfare are white. This is always a surprise to my students. And most black people are not on welfare, or even poor. This goes double for other non-white ethnic groups. This is also often a surprise to my students. As Promises I Can Keep makes clear, young welfare moms of all races reason in similar ways. The main obstacle to disconnecting the welfare and race discussions is the way-low black marriage rate. As I have pushed here often, the forces trying to improve the lives of African Americans have to be willing to push for marriage. Marriage is good for all races of kids and couples. I am convinced that if the marriage rates for all races and ethnic groups were the same, almost all other ethnic differences in social problems would disappear.

Finally, I should say that the current welfare reform is pretty good. It has led to massive reductions of the welfare rolls from women who could work, many of whom were already working. It is hard to extend to men because most of them aren't on welfare. Many are sponging off women who are on welfare, but there really isn't any way in a free country to touch them if the women let them sponge. Things are already getting better on the welfare front.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Where Poor Young Fathers Come From

A study of very young men, 16 - 22, at a health clinic in Philadelphia compared the ones who had fathered children with the ones who had not. None of these guys were married; only a couple (out of 91) were virgins. The average age for first intercourse was about the same - 13 vs. 14. The key difference was that the guys who did not have children had had father figures - 82% vs. 50% - and they themselves had a plan for their lives.

One striking difference between the two groups was how they approached sex. The non-fathers had sex much less often, and were much more likely to use contraceptives when they did. Among the fathers, 70% reported having intercourse more than once a month (the highest frequency category they could choose), and 55% reported that they never used contraceptives. No wonder they had babies. One wonders about the women they had these babies with, since nearly half of the fathers (45%) said up front that they did not expect to support their children.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Roxanne H. Fisher, R.I.P.

My friend Roxanne died last week, losing a long fight with breast cancer at 47. I am coming home from her memorial service. Roxanne was not a famous person. She was a plant biology professor with a love for ferns at Chatham University, where the memorial service was held. Many students and colleagues came to the service. She was a devoted wife and mother, and many members of her extended family were there. And she had a genius for friendship, knowing and connecting people across many decades and towns who came from all over. Like me.

Yesterday's service was actually the fourth. When the news of her passing reached Chatham, many classes stopped and the college community had a spontaneous gathering and mourning. The next day the block party in her neighborhood turned into a spontaneous appreciation of Roxanne. The formal funeral at the little country church in her home town brought out her family and old neighbors.

The theme of all of these memorials was that Roxanne Fisher was a decent, nurturing, teaching woman who stayed tied to the people in her life, and brought them together with one another. Two of her colleagues, themselves fighting breast cancer, spoke of how important it was to them to have Roxanne as a model, working and caring and trying new things to the end.

The core fact of Roxanne's death is just a sad, hard loss. But all the life around her memory is a triumph.