City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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Kay S. Hymowitz
Fragile Urban Families « Back to Story

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A single mother in my building had two 5 year old daughters, but gave birth to a third child. I wondered why she was burdening herself with a third child. Now I understand. She was employed with the TSA, a government job at airports, and with only 2 children she would not qualify for subsidized housing in my new high-rise doorman building in New York. I live in a building where 80% of the apartments are market rate (or whatever the tenant can negotiate) and 20% are subsidized. Since she had a modest job, with 2 children she wasn't "poor" enough to meet the numbers for a subsidized apartment. So she promptly remedied the situation by having a third child, for the two bedroom apartment, all new kitchen, all new everything. She and her children made so much trouble - yelling, running in the lobby and hallway, she was verbally abusive to them and the older girls were physically abusive to the baby. I reported their behavior to management, and to my relief, I haven't seen them since. Hope they were evicted. My point is that single mothers have babies because the benefits are so generous. A doorman, modern high rise apartment in the center of New York City for a price so low I can't begin to imagine? She obviously had no love for those children the way she treated them. They were her meal ticket.
"And what do we know about the impact of all this on children?"

Just look at the devastating effects of the dissolution the of Black family in the US. Children growing up without the discipline of a two parent family become irresponsible adults. The same problem is growing in the white families.
Young women want children yet young men cannot provide the resources to raise them, so they turn to govt by staying single. Young men can sponge off govt resources women get by just moving in and not getting married. One solution is provide resources to young married couples, but none or less to women who stay single. There is very, very little help out there for young men and young fathers who want to do the right thing. The idea would be to provide help to these young families initially with the goal of making them self-sufficient in three years or so. I am no fan of the welfare state but it is clear that the situations of lower-income young families is in crisis everywhere and not just among blacks or in cities.
"how is it that men who aren't marriageable or employable are still good enough to reproduce with?"

Most men who aren't marriageable or employable reproduce with women who aren't marriageable or employable either. The only difference is that when these children are born, the government provides incentives for single women with children, but almost no incentives for the men. Single women with children get welfare benefits, job training, a job, tax credits, a free lawyer if they take the man to court for child support, and child support payments for 18+ years (21 years in NY State). There's very little incentive for these women to be married.
Sorry, this litany of urban grief is useless without statistics that show whether or not such profound parental irresponsibility is encouraged and supported by America's welfare state. "The poor" and the "welfare supported" are not the same people, nor are their economic circumstances caused by the same actions.

“Cause” of human action must be identified and corrected, in order to remedy any social problem. A journalistic wringing of hands has yet to solve any problem, albeit it does wonders for the egos of those whose main interest in social problems is to use them to appear a concerned, compassionate, morally superior person.
@Brenda - how is it that men who aren't marriageable or employable are still good enough to reproduce with?
The wonderful world of Feminism and the 'empowered' woman.
@Craig: You're very correct to point out that the poor don't lack resources. The problem with many of these programs is that they are highly inefficient, bureaucratic and don't lead the recipient out of poverty. But welfare doesn't cause out-of-wedlock births either because most single-parent households, of all races, don't receive welfare.

The biggest cause of out-of-wedlock births is the high unemployment rates of males while females have high employment rates. The reason why marriage was so high in the past was because men were overwhelmingly employed and marriageable, while women didn't have many economic opportunities without being married. In our current economy, women are now the breadwinners and heads of households. They won't marry a man who doesn't equally provide for the family, but nevertheless desire to have children. Therefore, childrearing is more desired than marriage.

Another cause of out-of-wedlock births is the fact that so many men don't want to be married. Too many men fear the horror stories of marriage and just stay out of it. Its cheaper to pay child support than to lose half in divorce proceedings.
I love Kay's work, but the "Fragile Families" study she cites seems to be a rehash of tired liberal nostrums, especially the nostrum that a lack of resources, not welfare, is the primary cause of out-of-wedlock births and fractured families. This incorrect diagnosis of course leads to a viscious circle of more social spending and more social pathologies.
Does it take a study by the Woodrow Wilson (bad president) School of Public and International Affairs and the Brookings Inst. to come up with these results. I have a high school education, am 71 yrs. old, have fathered 4 children and have been married to the same woman for 48 yrs. My grass roots study from observation and conversation has come up with exactly the same results. The question is, what is the minority community going to do about it?
I had a relative that worked in the NYC prison system. He said most of the inmates were raised without a father.

The problem is that illegitimacy is heavily subsidized. An underclass woman does not need a husband. She will get subsidized housing, subsidized daycare, WIC, welfare (if needed), and free school lunches for the kids. Toys for Tots and other charities will provide the children with Christmas presents.
With so much “multipartner fertility” going on in the Black Community, there's no amount of money or assistance that can repair these childrens damaged lives. They don't learn trust, they're abused, their chances of success in this culture are greatly diminished. Until the greater Black Society decides that they will not tolerate their children suffering like this, that out-of-wedlock births and single mother child raising are socially and culturally unacceptable, there's nothing the greater American culture can do to change this pattern.
I'm always amazed by articles written by people who spend a limited and surface level of time with these familes. The writers sound as naieve as the people they interview. The economy has little to nothing to do with the horrendous situations these children live in. Talk to any High School teacher who does have daily intimate relationships with these deeply emotiionally troubled children and they will enlighten you all. The problem is no one is listening to a population of adults called teachers who are closest to these childrens pain. By the way it is not just an Urban situation, it's deeply suburban also. The study and statistics is nothing new to a teacher. It is ancient history and it crosses every socio-economic group. Everyday children walk into classrooms across America with stacks of emotional baggage on their shoulders and in their hearts which paralyzes them from learning. Whether they're totally withdrawn or violently acting out it all stems from the same lack of parentlng, love, safety and consistency in their lives.
The practical thing to do would be to cut way back on subsidizing such lifestyles, and encourage adoption.
Ms Hymowitz' short essay is informative "but" of what practical use? It is grim as she implies.

I am a retired social worker in corrections and have seen the various forms of damages and consequences that spin off of being raised in single parent households where children have different fathers.

Talk about "sibling rivalry"... especially during the holidays. Talk about anger, resentments, jealousies, envy, remorse, and other negatives that children suffer when multiple fathers are involved in so-called "families"?

Worse, these families often include fathers who are very negative ... even disgusting.."fathers" that the children are aware of (drug addicts, robbers, rapists, murderers, gangsters, etc). These families also include cases where some of the mom and the kids do not know who the father is! I have known convicts who suffer great emotional distress at not knowing who their "dads" are.

Well, nothing has changed since I worked the field.... All the social engineering projects and money thrown at the problem(s) seem wasted on people mired in their dysfunctional lifestyles.

From many years of observation, the above situation is well ingrained cultural artifact of dysfunctional lifestyles in America.
Destroying families was one of the three elements in Karl Marx's directive for Socialism to succeed. The other two were Property and Religion. It is significant that Betty Fridan, a pioneer Femininist, was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of America. If that weren't enough, we now have the propect of children being raised in same-sex unions. It is impossible to raise psycho-sexually normal children when a one- gender couple is present in a child's upbringing.This fact used to be represented in the satstistic that girls raised without a father have twice the divorce rate. And mothers who keep their maiden name have children with sexual-identity problems. No wonder our schools have such difficulties in the education process; they have to contend with such damaged, un-focused, family-conflicted children. The fracturing of childhoods is a threat to society today, but will be a disaster in the future.
Robert,

Not trying to be smart here, but if you can't see the point of this essay, then how do you know it's simplistic?

I think it makes a profound, timeless point, and it doesn't claim that EVERY two-parent household is perfect or ideal. It simply points out that as a general rule, they're more stable and safe, and they provide a more emotionally fulfilling atmosphere for childhood development.

And if we were to rely on anecdotes (which you offer), I can provide plenty to support the author's "simplistic" point.
As a successful professional who achieved such in spite of growing up with married parents who abused each other daily for years but did not seperate, I just dont see the simplistic point of this essay.
"There’s even evidence that instability affects children’s cognitive performance. Worst of all, children growing up with a boyfriend or stepdad in the house are at greater risk of abuse, a fact horribly demonstrated in Brooklyn recently when two-year-old Aiyden Davis died as a result of his mother’s boyfriend’s beatings."

my god people in nyc are stupid. your bleeding heart kills people.
Another reminder that a number of the old discarded taboo's (like the one regarding unwed motherhood)had a valid reason for existing. American cities were never utopias, but the utter breakdown of morality and family structure, the explosion of illegitimate childbirth, and the added fuel of the Great Society programs have brought social catastrophe. I live outside an east coast city of approximately 73,000. I was recently considering moving within the city limits. Then, with some research, discovered I'd be moving to an area where my property taxes would rise at least 50%, there is a wage tax, higher insurance premiums, and the real kicker, 85% of the city's kids live in single parent households. There have been 120 shootings and 27 murders so far this year. And then there is the rampant property crime: vandalism, arson, burglary of cars and homes. Also not to be forgotten, the muggings, assaults, drug dealing and public intoxication. Altogether, a quality of city life that is not to be envied. It's been said that the best way to promote a behavior is to subsidize it, and our cities are living proof. Time to undo the Johnson and Obama policies that pay for single parenthood, the best producer of criminals, bar none.