Blame Baltimore violence on a lack of fathers in the home

On the first day of one of my classes several years ago, when students introduce themselves, one said that she was a single mother. The entire class (it seemed) applauded loudly. My reflex was to ask the class why they all clapped, but I didn’t want to make the student uncomfortable. I am part of the problem. All of us are.

There needs to be a full throttle rhetorical and economic effort to disincentivize broken families. Mayors and other political and social leaders, as well as clergy, need to loudly reject a culture wherein having children outside of marriage is acceptable. Government needs to stop incentivizing single parenthood through welfare that pays more money the more children one has. We must use the progressive devil term and stigmatize having children without present fathers.

Success in this persuasive endeavor will take 10 years or more. But if it had been effected 10, 20, 30 years ago, we would already have reaped its good consequences. Why do we put it off? Because it is hard, and it entails the political risk of upsetting voters, many, if not most, of whom are in dysfunctional families or know good friends who are.

Yet the stakes are too high to ignore the issue. Fatherlessness is highly correlated with crime, poverty, social pathologies and psychological problems.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, children living without fathers have a 400 percent increased chance of being poor. Only about one-tenth of children living with both parents are living in poverty. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also states that drug and alcohol abuse is far greater among children living without fathers.

This is not a mystery. When children have no parental control, as is often — no, not always — the case in fatherless families, they frequently look to older children for guidance. They may also find that gangs seem to provide the protection that only two parents can give. It is illusory, of course, but that’s how it seems.

As Melissa Kearney, professor in the department of economics at the University of Maryland, stated on Freakonomics Radio earlier this month: “research consistently shows that kids who live with two married parents have lower rates of poverty, have higher cognitive test scores in childhood, have fewer behavioral problems. They seem to have better health outcomes. They’re less likely to live in poverty when they’re 25. They’re more likely to complete college and they’re less likely to become young, unmarried parents themselves.”

Incidentally, for those who think that money is destiny, here is a particularly interesting statistic from the Charles F. Kettering Foundation: “Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes.”

Some who read this will insist that they know many good mothers without a husband in the home who have wonderfully productive and law-abiding children, and that is doubtlessly true. I know some myself. But that is irrelevant to understanding that the difficulties of raising children by a single parent yield — and statistics indicate that over 70 percent of families in many major cities are fatherless — a permanent dysfunctional and criminal class and that ignoring this will not make it go away.

Short-term fixes, such as improving police work, providing more jobs, and pre-school and after school activities, etc. can — possibly — alleviate some crime and other problems, but they do not constitute a significant solution.

Baltimore officials should consider that as they grapple with the city’s rising homicide rate. Adding officers to the streets will not undo the damage done by growing up without a father.

Richard E. Vatz (rvatz@towson.edu) teaches at Towson University and is author of "The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model" (McGraw-Hill, 2017) and co-editor of "Thomas S. Szasz: the Man and His Ideas" (Transaction Books, 2017).

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