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Heather Mac Donald
The New York Times’s Welfare Myopia « Back to Story

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Good article. I read the NY Times piece earlier and agree with this author's critique. As I once read from an economist, "A single mother headed household will never be a viable economic unit." Why? Because there is no way for a single mother to reconcile the demands and costs of care of children AND employment. Thus, they will be perpetually in poverty and/or on the dole.
Sharon Kass - I couldn't agree more. Conservatives need to put money, and time, where their mouths are. The downward spiral of the poor will only dissipate when the culture and economic warriors on the Right are willing to set up shop and physically turn around blighted neighborhoods. Honestly, the right never does that because there's no benefit for conservatives to do it.

Edward Blackmon - I think the drug dealer example is a stretch, but I understand your point. From personal experience I can tell you that men and women are better off economically and socially when men are productive and can provide for themselves and the community. When men aren't productive, both men and women make bad choices and that's exactly what the drug dealer and his children's mothers did - although we don't have too much information about the mothers of his children.

The astronomical numbers of single parenthood have everything to do with the economy. Unlike during the Depression, women today are competing at the same educational and technical levels as men are. Most of all women are being paid the same as men are. This means that women can live their entire lives without the necessity of a husband. This wasn't even dreamed of during the Depression.

Now, what have men been reared to do? To provide for their wife and children. We are now living in a society where men are no longer doing that. Women are now the breadwinners, particularly in poor neighborhoods. The result has been a disillusionment of the role of men in the household, so much that many men don't desire participating in a female headed household. In fact, many men can't participate in said households because the female won't allow him to reside with her if he's not bringing in any income - even if the household includes children.

Here's a true story: I know a man that used to be a drug dealer and he has two kids by two different women. He fathered his first child from a one night stand (she got a child support order against him) and his second child was from a long term relationship (they lived together). He did get some employment but his main source of income was selling drugs. Although he lived on the other side of the law, he managed to have a good relationship with his children (he got visitation rights for his first child) and financially supported both of his children and helped out with the living arrangement with the girlfriend.

Of course he gets arrested and goes to prison for five years. Since he's been released, he's been homeless off and on since then, owes $4K in child support & public assistance arrears, and hasn't found stable employment. Most of all, he has a fractured relationship with both women and he tries to see his children when he can.

The lesson of the story is that when men are earning a regular living, they will provide for and have relationships with their children and they will have better relationships with women. Now I'm absolutely not advocating that men should go out and be drug dealers, but his choice to earn money illegally had a lot to do with his inability to find legal, full time employment. If men cannot earn a regular living, the result socially is devastating. There will be fewer marriages and fewer fathers in households.

Here's the irony - he lived in Mott Haven in the Bronx, one of the worst neighborhoods in NYC. This area is surrounded by dozens of old, dilapidated warehouses and factories that used to employ thousands from the area. Many poor neighborhoods are surrounded by these industrial structures. There's a strong correlation between the decline in manufacturing jobs and the increase in poverty in those areas.

The decline of men from the economic system has been, is and will always be the greatest impediment to marriage.
The smart thing is for conservatives to take full responsibility for poverty prevention and relief. They will need to bring the best psychotherapy to bear. Serious emotional problems are rife in the poor population. Attachment parenting and dating/marriage skills must also be taught. Mentors, coaches, and helpers are needed. Conservatives must be there on the ground.
I enjoyed this article up to but not including the final sentence, the non-sequitur solution of 'fatherhood and marriage'.

Where the heck did the writer pull that out of, one wonders?
Good article, I think the best place to start would be going after the fathers who aren't supporting their children. Right now there is little consequence for deadbeats, if we add one that alone will make many men think twice. It's not a full solution but it is a start.
Edward Blackmon;

Unemployment was 30% during the Great Depression yet we did not have the astronomical percentage of single mother households that exist now.

The connection between unemployment and single mother households is rather weak. The causes appear to be cultural rather than economic.
I generally agree with Ms. MacDonald on her analysis regarding the link between the poor and the lack of marriage. But I still am waiting for Ms. MacDonald to make the link between male unemployment (particularly in the Black community) and poor, single female headed households.

When did marriage rates begin to decline? In the late 1960s - exactly during the same period when the manufacturing sector began disappearing. The service sector replaced manufacturing - and what segment of the population did the service sector demand? Women. Why? Because women could be paid less money. The result was the disappearing of men (particularly men of color) from the workforce.

In 2012 men are being forced out of the workforce again due to jobs moving overseas. Why? Because the overseas workforce is cheaper. The result is that marriage rates have dropped significantly and more women are living single, with or without children.

See the parallel.

There has to be a serious discussion about the economy's effect on society.
I worked until the Friday before each of my 2 children were born, 16 months apart. I was married,but we did not have insurance, in 1956 & 57. My aunt called me & told me about an IUD (intra uterine device), birth control pills had not yet been created. I'm 74 and have worked nearly all my life. I believe birth control should be required, if one is on taxpayer dole. I made payments to the Dr. each month, barely paid for lst, before 2nd arrived. Both my adult offspring are successful.
Don is unable to overcome himself and be honest about disagreement.
Jason DeParle is the husband of Nancy-Ann DeParle who is Obama's White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Prior to that she worked in the Clinton White House. All of this may or may not be relevant, but it's hard to imagine the spouse of a member of the Obama administration as someone who would argue for a smaller welfare state.
Brilliant. Of course you're right. It's just hard to see where employed, marriagable men will come from in a deep recession.
And, with or without morality, it's very difficult to imagine these particular women taking the bus to Target to buy their $9/month contraception -- regardless of consequences.
Richard Maloney - I think you are purposely deflecting from the point of the article.

I too feel for the "baby". Heck, I was one - my single mother was stuck with me and my brother and no support. And yes, it was the product of an incredibly dumb choice on her part to have children out of wedlock. Yes, my brother and I made good choices out of this lousy circumstance, but let's get real, too. We were Division I NCAA scholarship athletes with high IQ's. How many "babies" will have this kind of luck? Very, very few. I am but a few genetic clicks away from a life of misery with very few prospects for mobility.

The problem is that what we subsidize we get more of. And if we subsidize more rotten behavior, well, that is what we get more of. And it is really difficult for progressives to get their minds around the fact that programs with such good intentions have caused such damage. I mean, after all, they were intended to help babies and women!

I agree with supporting no cost contraception and frankly, even though I know it offends many religious people (with whom I generally have no quarrel), subsidized abortions too. At some point reality has to set in. But these actions would only make a small dent in the problem if our social programs are not changed. Women use contraception not only because they intuit they are not ready for a child, but also because they have life goals which would be impeded with the birth of a child. But the social programs give people out an "out" obviously not a good one and not one that can support a reasonable lifestyle. But it is an out which all too many take. I am reminded of Gerry Garibaldi's article a few years back:

The issue isn't demonizing babies. It is about the failure of our programs - hardly a new issue - certainly Moynihan let us know it was coming. And I am astounded very few talk about the fathers. I find it unreal that so many just walk from their children with no involvement. If one really cared about the "babies', we would address the emotional pain most of all these babies endure for not having an involved father in their lives.
Its a tough world out there and if republicans get their way then more drastic measures will happen when people are in need more than ever.
Amid the litany of standard-issue poor-people-are-getting-what-they-deserve screed, a real gem of a self-defeating argument:

"Underclass poverty doesn’t just happen to people, as the Left implies. It is almost always the consequence of poor decision-making--above all, having children out of wedlock."

It didn't just HAPPEN to that baby! It CHOSE to be born poor, in a struggling economic class with zero social mobility. That baby made a bad choice, and clearly could have improved its situation beforehand.

That, or Mac Donald is arguing that the baby itself is the poor decision. If so, I will look forward to Mac Donald's subsequent article praising abortion as an economic simplifier.
You want to make parenting and out of wedlock births an issue in the war on poverty? I suggest eliminating all IRS responsibility over it.

I had a discussion the other day about people who got in tax trouble over questionable child care deductions and exemptions -- anything from claiming nonexistent children to grandparents taking care of grandchildren because the daughter ran away -- or does she still live in the house but have no intention of working?

Playing gotcha with the tax man is a useless front line of social policy. Likewise the endless credits and deductions. My favorite is the It Pays To Work Credit of 2 or 3 years back (the first line of the instructions advised me: "It pays to work.) We can't play whack-a-mole with lowlife. What They need is a simple and stern visit from a case worker, and if needs be, an order to leave the country if citizenship or work permits are not in order. A lifetime limit on child welfare assistance or free child delivery care will be tendered. Oh, what I have to say as an eyewitness on anchor babies will have to wait till next time!
Excellent article. We must address these issues. In Texas we see too many single mothers between 15-20. It's bad and the cycle just keeps continuing.
@Nancy Lee - I thought the right was anti-abortion. Some religions outlaw contraceptives, but I don't know of anybody that is against planning your family's future.

@ellens - Most poor adults grew up poor. They know what it is like to grow up on the edge. It's hard for me to understand why they would choose such an upbringing for their children. Even if "there are no men to marry", the other rules apply. Finish school, obey the law and get a steady income first.
Nance Lee;

One of the promises of legalized abortion was that the poor would abort themselves out of existence. Why hasn't the Left addressed this failure?
Many poor women want babies and there are no men to marry so they have them out-of-wedlock. Even if a low-income father wanted to marry, what resources would they have compared to what she would get if she stayed single and let him live with her?
I would love to hear the right talk about choices in advance of bringing children into poverty. Oh, wait. The right is anti-choice, anti birth control, anti family planning. So much for that. You could have saved all those paragraphs.
While it's true that the three rules of the middle class still apply, the question is why so many don't follow them. I'd love to see this piece followed by one that asks TANF recipients how they got in their predicaments. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen since TANF, but they are still way too high.

Oh, the three rules are:
- Get as much education as you can, but you must graduate from high school.
- Don't break the law, so you stay out of jail.
- Don't have kids until you settle down with someone and have a steady income.
In the past it was understood that such women were incapable of raising a child by themselves since they would receive neither support nor approval. Both she and the father were stigmatized if they did not marry. The children were put up for adoption into stable two–parent homes. Somewhere along the line, society decided that it was mean spirited to stigmatize the mother (and the father who would not marry her) and to not support her child. The result was a cornucopia of government programs that made reckless breeding viable for later generations. We now have an underclass of government dependent baby-mamas and their underachieving children.

We must go back to discouraging this lifestyle in the strongest possible manner, starting with the reduction of the gravy train of benefits that make it so easy

Lynn Robb;
Cost is not the main barrier to contraceptive use. People use contraceptives when they have a compelling reason to avoid pregnancy. These people don’t. Their mother had children out of wedlock, and so did grandma, and so does the neighbor and so does the uncle, … ad infinitum. I had a relative who worked in many underclass neighborhoods and attested to the fact that the fatherless family was the cultural norm. The inhabitants know no other familial structure.
Hey, it's a great system for guys. I mean, why buy the milk, when you can get the cow for free, and the gov't pays for the kids? So what if the whole country is going down the tubes because of it?

And this is no joke. Nearly half of kids are born out of wedlock today, and the numbers are growing, will be a majority soon - and those kids are at much higher risk of poverty, dropping out, gangs and drugs and crime.

You think we have problems now? Just think what the country will be like when these fatherless children grow up and take over the majority. We're already seeing it in youth riots all over the country, and it's only going to get worse. We need a return to real FATHERHOOD, along with real motherhood, real marriage and real love and real responsibility - and I speak as a former "feminist", disgusted with the actual depraved outcomes of the so-called "sexual revolution." Slavery and destruction, more like.
I have read various studies on single mothers in poverty. As you indicate in this article, the father is never an issue. All policy recommendations in reports from liberal organizations such as Brookings call for a heightened government focus on the needs of the mother. The father is already presumed to be an incurable deadbeat (and thus a net drain on the single mother family) or in jail. To reverse the trend of increasing single motherhood and its promise of poverty requires a focus on the men. If a man can become a productive member of society and hold down a job, especially if he is personally motivated to move ahead, he is in a far better position to help support a family and therefore is a viable candidate for marriage. The attack on morals of women is not at all sufficient, especially since many impoverished women believe that having children saved them from a far worse and more immoral fate (see Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas). What makes male teenagers drop out of school? That's a place to start, since dropping out of a high school is a decision to become a bum, a decision that will be very hard to reverse once the young man goes down that path, which usually involves multiple stops in prison. The moral and economic deterioriation of men must be reversed as a precondition to downward trend in single motherhood.
Those who have nothing to offer other than name calling and references to Scrooge should actually visit - or better yet - live in some of the areas where multi-generational poverty is a way of life. I saw this first hand in the 90's making appearances in Newark, Essex County New Jersey Juvenile Court. It was truly a scene out of Dickens, a decrepit old court room, an elderly judge, children as young as nine being brought up on drug dealing charges (one by selling drugs through the fence of the colloquially named 'Youth House' - itself a place out of Dickens) without any family member appearing for them. I heard the Judge say "where's the grandmother" over and over again. The children? Invariably African American. This in a place where the Democratic party had been in power for decades and decades.

Or in Paterson, New Jersey, where I recently heard stories of a rolling crime wave that happened every afternoon when the mostly African American High School got out. Shopkeepers would close their stores, residents knew better than to be on the street - a scene out of the wild west, until a homeless man was killed by a group of students. Now, hordes of police patrol the area every afternoon when school gets out. This, in a place that has been controlled by Democrats, also for decades and decades.

The point is this: whatever is being done isn't working, not only is it not working, there isn't any hope of conditions getting better....ever - EVER. There just should not be a group that year after year, decade after decade - for whom no matter how much money is spent - nothing changes except for the worse.

Or to put it another way, after 50 years of alignment with the Democratic party, if this was a good idea, shouldn't African Americans be in favor of tax breaks for the rich?

How does this apply to welfare reform? It's this: Poverty should not be a racial issue, but it is because poverty and dependency seems to be intractable for an outsized part of the African American community - ask yourself: why is it that year after year African American leaders are always calling for more for the poor? And why is it that it NEVER changes, year by year decade by decade. We all expect it now, no one takes notice, it's part of the culture - and no one says anything because we have all been conditioned by Democratic media to keep quiet or face claims of racism. Hunh?

So no one even mentions the statistics about outsized crime rates, poverty rates, dismal educational achievements etc. in an outsized part of the African American community, and the lack of progress, despite billions, if not a trillion spent. Those who say anything are immediately tagged as racists by a Democratic media which - again - has conditioned all of us to remain silent at the risk of career killing racism charges.

Again, this applies to welfare because Democratic leaders have made welfare into a racial issue, equating welfare reform efforts with racism. What's racist, however, is perpetuating year after year a system, a paradigm, a culture or whatever you want to call it, where African Americans continue to have unbelievably high crime rates, dismal poverty rates, high unemployment rates, poor educational achievements etc. And where the people continue to re-elect leaders that every year fail to deliver, who by their continued failures show that they have little or no interest in doing anything other than squeezing every last penny out of the situation for them and their cronies - so that there is now an entire poverty industry dependent on the misery of the community, while retaining as much power as possible.

And again - the Democratic media ensures that any critique of the present awful situation is the same as racism, so that nothing changes, even after half a century of program after program, and billion after billion spent. SOMEONE has to point out that it isn't working, that money isn't the answer, that maybe a change of leadership is required. That the present Democratic leadership in the African American community has no interest in the changing the status quo since they get all the votes now, and a change for the better would result in less power, and less money.

In short, where else do you see no consequences despite continued failure?

As for other aspects of welfare reform, someone should also point out that the Democratic Party has a vested interest in keeping as many people dependent on welfare for as long as possible. The reason is simple - the Democratic Party, historically the party of the KKK, Jim Crow, lynchings and slavery, has transformed itself into the party of government, and the more people dependent on government the more votes it gets. Prosperity is not the goal of this corrupt organization. It's as simple as that. And the NY Times, as the standard bearer of the Democratic party, is using the age old tactic of using individual examples as support for their argument - in other words, anecdotal evidence. It's a dishonest way of proving a point, but dishonesty is what Democratic media is all about.

There should be outrage that this one organization and its supporters would ruin lives by encouraging dependency in an effort to gain power. I won't even go into the cure for poverty and crime, that is, intact families with two parents (and hopefully, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) all working together. Family is an anathema to Democrats, who feed off of and encourage shattered families.

Have these people no shame?
Let me state up front that I am a Conservative. I believe in personal responsibility and free markets. I believe the least government is the best government. I am also clear eyed about the way things really are as opposed to the way I would like them to be.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, Conservatives are shooting themselves in feet by not advocating free contraception excluding abortion to anyone who does not make at least $40,000 per year.

"What!" you say. "Ideological apostasy!" Nope--facing facts.

I am tired of my tax dollars headed out of Washington to families and individuals who have no desire or ability to understand
how life works. We need a carrot and stick approach.

Either you take your birth control method seriously (it is free after all)or you get put in jail for child abuse. What is it if not child abuse to bring a child into a situation where it is guaranteed to remain in poverty for the rest of its life?
Seamus - I don't hate anyone, but distressed at the incredible numbers of men who father children and leave them and neglect them. Cruelty and insensitivity are proper labels to call these men, and frankly, many of the mothers, too. And it is improper to place these kind of labels on the vast majority of people who you demonize merely by virtue of their objection to current welfare policies. They generally know just how challenging raising children two full time, involved and caring parents, and shudder at the selfishness of a woman who brings a child in the world with no viable means to care for the child and even more intensely shudder at the thought of the men who take no or virtually no responsibility for their offspring and abandon them to the miserable existence the statist structure provides. I don't think the term you use - hate - is at all accurate. Most of us are incredibly distressed upon observing what so many people are doing to their children. (I am a child of a single mother and a devoted to the point of obsessive father of two who was fortunate enough to obtain lots of top notch education and marry well - I know just how bad things can be and am perplexed at how so many who start life with disadvantages (like me) fail to realize that like it or not, they have far less margin for error than those from stable homes). At some point we must get beyond the abstract ad hominem attacks and focus on the frankly bad decisions so many make - these decisions harm children, and badly so.
MacDonald's analysis is so fearless and clear-eyed it is a joy to read. Her focus on the obvious macro-problem of out-of-wedlock births reminds me, strangely, of Abe's unwavering return to the morality of slavery rather than getting mired in the technicalities and obfuscations of state's rights etc. Keep hammering!
I don't know about other states but almost thirty years ago in Florida, when applying for welfare. The state wanted the name of the father and then the would pursue a child support case, even if he was in another state. In fact it was the one hope to get child support if you could not afford a lawyer and he could. (I had been married but my lawyer wanted more fees to handle child support as a seperate issue.)
"They need to know, you have a child you are not only fiscally responsible, but you are legally responsible for all aspects of that child's well being."

Tell that the corrupt family courts that strip men from their children in 80% of the divorce cases. How the hell can you be held responsible for a child you get to see once every week for a few hours at a time, especially with the possibility of Parental Alienation, abuse of protection orders, over-inflated child support awards that require many to work two jobs to stay alive.

My God! This is scandalous. Are there no workhouses? Are there no stocks? Are there no whipping posts? What has happened to the branding irons? We will never recover from Liberalism until we return to the God-given sanity of the 17th Century!
My God! This is scandalous. Are there no workhouses? Are there no stocks? Are there no whipping posts? What has happened to the branding irons? We will never recover from Liberalism until we return to the God-given sanity of the 17th Century!
Jonathan Haidt's book "The Righteous Mind" is quite relevant here. The fable of the ant and the grasshopper, cited by Haidt, is apposite.

All decisions about welfare have to at least avoid inverting the reward structure to where the working stiff, plugging away at a tough job and making only a frugal living, becomes a fool for not going on welfare.
Seamus is unable to overcome himself and be honest about disagreement. Note the pretension to economic understanding, as well ("Bush recession").
Liberalism, with its emphasis on individual irresponsibility sets the stage for a profound societal failure.

One of the most critical elements of any society is to control reproduction to ensure stability. When irresponsible behavior is rewarded, a society begins to fail. When the government intrudes into the private sphere of family responsibilities, there is no longer enough money in the entire system to sustain the effort.

Earlier societies recognized that individuals needed to pay the price for their actions. When they do not, then that cost is shifted to responsible individuals. But at some point the costs of this parasitism by a governing elite who use the poor choices of the irresponsible classes to justify their governance becomes too great a financial burden, and the moral - and economic crisis deepens.

The great lie is that we have to help the irresponsible or their children will suffer. But this is a canard, for our 'help' merely enables additional irresponsible behavior, and ultimately all the children in the society will suffer.

The Bush bashing is totally irrelevant here.

Welfare dependency is not a product of politics or the recession. It's a product of bad lifestyle choises like getting pregnant as a teen, dropping out of school, using drugs, refusing work, failing to get married before having even more kids, and engaging in crime. And it's the product of a leftist social philosophy that says it's a good idea to give people something for nothing, because it assuages your liberal guilt. But you don't realize that the no-strings giveaways create social problems in the recipients.

Welfare has been a major and growing problem since the 1960's. Prior to that, most kids (including most black kids) lived in two-parent homes where at least one parent worked full-time.

You have obviously never worked in an inner-city housing project, a prison, or a welfare office. You are a naive liberal without an adequate understanding of human nature.
Unemployed, single women who have a series of out-of-wedlock children (often by different men) cause their own poverty. Reducing welfare benefits may cause these women to re-think their decisions. In many poor areas, single women habitually rely on pregnancy as a long-term meal ticket. Teen girls know that they can move out of Mom's house (and get away from her rules) just by getting pregnant and opening their own welfare case (otherwise they are dependents on Mom's case).
As long as society makes it pay to get pregnant while destitute, we will have a bumper crop of destitute Moms and poor, illegitimate kids.
Hard-working, responsible taxpayers have no moral duty to support indigent people who have kids they can't afford. After all, pregnancy is not a disease or a disability. It is a choice that a woman makes. You choose to use birth control or not. If somebody chooses to get pregnant, they should be responsible for supporting that decision.
Furthermore, the women who have kids in order to get welfare benefits are usually lousy parents. Most of these women have a low I.Q. and no sense of responsibility. They are usually school drop-outs, with no marketable skills, and no interest in working or becoming self-supporting. The mother sets a poor example for her children, fails to provide guideance and supervision, and fails to instill a sense of personal responsibility.
The child also grows up without a father and learns that a man's role in life is to impregnate someone and walk away. Boys learn that they have no responsibility to support their women or their children, or to even be present in their lives. Girls learn not to expect anything from men, and boys learn to use and abandon women. What a great society this creates!
No wonder we have a growing, dysfunctional underclass!
Frankly, this whole problem was created by the liberals and their welfare programs. In the 1950's, most black kids lived in two-parent homes where at least one parent worked. Today, most black kids are raised by a single, unemployed mother on welfare. Welfare has created this situation. Phasing out welfare will cure it. Gradually reducing welfare benefits will cause poor people to once again turn to jobs and marriage as a way to survive and raise a family. It's better for everybody.
President Clinton made a great start with welfare reform. We need to finish the job by reducing benefits further so that it no longer pays to procreate irresponsibly. We need to promote work, marriage, and personal responsibility in the underclass.
How nice to see Heather, a child of unlimited privilege, bring down her wrath on the victims of the Bush recession. It's convenient to forget that the vast majority of those receiving welfare are children, who regardless of their parents' failures, are still entitled to a chance at success in today's world. I am so confounded by those who beat their breasts proclaiming their love of America, and yet so deeply hate and resent their fellow Americans.
Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?
One thing that ought to happen is to make the fathers of these children legally responsible if the child becomes abused or neglected. They need to know, you have a child you are not only fiscally responsible, but you are legally responsible for all aspects of that child's well being.