President Obama, switching the subject from Obamacare, recently gave a speech describing income inequality as the most significant issue of our time. Advancing inequality “is what drives me”, he said, because it “poses a fundamental threat to American prosperity”.
Although only about one percent of Americans agree that income inequality is our most important problem, most of us do find it worrisome. So what does our president propose to do about it?
Once again, he proposes massive government involvement, ranging from a budget with more stimulus spending (that’ll work this time!) to yet more federal programs for children to expanded anti-discrimination laws. Pretty much the same old same old.
The notion of using government to take from the rich and give to the poor is a seemingly logical antidote to inequality. Yet Obama has been president for five years now and our community organizer has spent trillions imposing his statist agenda on the nation. We’ve declined to become the 19th most economically free nation in the world from second most free in 2000.
What do we have to show for our loss of funds and freedom? Not much. Income inequality has measurably increased during Obama’s watch, as economic growth declined.
Does it really make sense, as Obama suggests, to bear down on applying the same failed policies to our stubborn problems? Or is it possible that big government really isn’t the solution at all, but the problem, the reason economic growth is stalled and inequality is growing?
Failing schools, labor markets depressed by masses of low-skilled immigrants and economic stagnation all contribute to increasing inequality. But the key to the whole deal, the most basic explanation of what’s going on here is the marriage gap. Cultural decisions about marriage, cohabitation and children are most responsible for the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
The collapse of marriage hasn’t affected all Americans equally. College graduates have marriage patterns not that different from those of a half-century ago. But for others, the institution of marriage is in free-fall.
According to the National Marriage Project, mothers with high school but not college degrees had non-marital children 13 percent of the time in the 1980s. Today it is 44 percent. It’s even higher for those with less education. In fact, 53 percent of all births to women under age 30 are outside of marriage.
For minorities, it’s even worse. Black out-of-wedlock birthrates are now over 70 percent. This is nothing short of catastrophe.
Even though many single mothers try hard at parenting and some succeed, the overall consequences of growing up fatherless are devastating. Children of single mothers have a 44 percent chance of living in poverty compared to 12 percent for others. All other factors being equal, young men without fathers are twice as likely to be incarcerated.
63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. 71 percent of high school dropouts, 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated facilities and 85 percent of children with severe behavioral problems are the product of fatherless households. Countless private and public organizations strive tirelessly to help, but the problems of the fatherless are intractable.
These under-educated, unsocialized young men don’t make very good marriage material when they grow up. The cycle is perpetuated, with the help of the modern welfare state. Young women learn that government provides more security and material goods than other prospective partners. The only demands by government are they stay in poverty and not marry.
Many have observed that marriage is in danger of becoming a “luxury good” in our society. That would be a shame, even as government invades traditional family responsibilities, like looking after the young and elderly.
But there’s a reason marriage and family have served for so long as the building blocks of successful societies. It’s more than an economic arrangement. We find health and security by living our lives with people who truly love us, whose commitment to our well-being is unlimited and who are there for us no matter what.
If the collapse of marriage among the poor continues, we will face a permanent gap in economic productivity, in education and in happiness.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.