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When families break down

The Augusta Chronicle Imagine asking a young woman if she wants her children to do poorly in school. Or to go to prison. Or to use drugs. Or to live in poverty. It’s a good bet more than 70 percent of women and girls would say they don’t want that for their children. And yet, the Associated Press reports that 72 percent of black children are now born out of wedlock — and statistics show children of single mothers of any race are more likely to experience all those troubles and more. One single mother interviewed for the AP story said she thinks marriage is a good idea — but that “what’s good for you might not be good for me.” Ah, but that’s not the question. The question is, what’s best for the child? The facts, spelled out in study after study, don’t just say two-parent families are better for kids — they scream it. The 1990 report Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990s , by the Democratic Progressive Policy Institute, is a landmark on the topic. The authors courageously reject the politically correct notion that “questions of family structure are purely private matters … The consequences of family failure affect society at large. We all pay for systems of welfare, mental and physical disability, criminal justice and incarceration; we are all made poorer by the inability or unwillingness of young adults to become contributing members of society; we all suffer if society is unsafe and divided and if our children are poorly educated.” Notwithstanding conduct between consenting adults, society, they write, has a right to question “alternative lifestyles” that affect everyone — in particular those that involve the raising of children. Quoting author David Ellwood, the report says “the vast majority of children who are raised entirely in a two-parent home will never be poor during childhood. By contrast, the vast majority of children who spend time in a single-parent home will experience poverty.” Nearly three-quarters of single-parent children experience poverty in their first 10 years of life, the PPI report says; only one-fifth of others will. Moreover, the report says, when you factor out single parenthood, there is no link between either race or income level and crime rates. Why would anyone knowingly do that to their children? If the answer is that they don’t know what they’re doing, then shouldn’t we be able to tell them? After that, how much of the problem is self-indulgence and a refusal to delay gratification? Whatever the cause, the fact is the family’s breakdown is affecting all of us, regardless of what choices we make in our own lives. Families with children, says the PPI report, “are engaged in activities with vast social consequences.” It follows that choices those families make should be fair game for discussion.

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