Romance and finance are at the heart of a national crisis this Valentine’s Day.
The decline of “I do” in America today is a harsh but rational decision by women who prefer men who bring paychecks.
When the men are unable to keep a steady job, a lot of women make a coldhearted but rational decision not to marry.
Kristi Williams, an Ohio State University researcher, was quoted in Sunday’s New York Times as saying research indicates that poor women who never marry are often better off financially than women who divorce.
“These women revere marriage, they want to get married,” she explained before concluding that many women make a logical calculation that they are better off by themselves than with the instability of living with an unemployed man.
The result is the steady decline in American marriages. And the society is experiencing a cultural shock as a result of the connection between single motherhood and poverty.
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, draws a stark picture of the consequences resulting from the lack of two-parent families. He writes in a report:
“According to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.8 percent. Being raised in a married family reduced a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.”
This sad reality is particularly acute in minority groups with the highest rates of unemployment. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 72.2 percent of African-American babies and 53.5 percent of Hispanic babies born in 2012 were born out of wedlock. Close to a third of white babies, 29.4 percent, also enter the world with the odds stacked against them.
Another way to look at the damage done by the lack of marriage is that 71 percent of families living in poverty are single-parent families. And while race is definitely part of the problem, it is not the entirety of the problem.
President Obama said as much in his Super Bowl interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly earlier this month.
“Because what's interesting, when you look at what's going on right now, you're starting to see, in a lot of white, working class homes, similar problems. When men can't find good work, when the economy is shutting ladders of opportunity off from people, whether they're black, white, Hispanic, it doesn't matter, then that puts pressure, as well, on the home,” the president told O’Reilly.
“So you've got an interaction between an economy that isn't generating enough good jobs for folks who traditionally could get blue-collar jobs even if they didn't have higher education …” he added.
O’Reilly asked why there wasn’t a national campaign by the president and the first lady to address the problem of illegitimacy in the black community explicitly.
Obama countered: “Yes, actually, Bill, we address it explicitly all the time. I'll send you at least 10 speeches that I've made since I've been president talking about the importance of men taking responsibility for their children, talking about the importance of young people delaying gratification, talking about the importance of, when it comes to child-rearing, paying child support, spending time with your kids, reading with them. So whether it's getting publicity or not is a whole different question.”
All of that is true.
One of those 10 speeches in particular comes to mind. Last year Obama spoke to young black men graduating from Morehouse in College in Atlanta and told them it is time to stop using white racism – though it still exists – to excuse bad personal decisions that leave children without both of their parents.
For his Morehouse speech, the president was called a “scold,” and the Washington Post reported “many in the black community” think the speech was not for a black audience but “to make himself politically palpable to white voters.”
During the 2008 campaign, President Obama told black audiences that black men needed to be better fathers to their children. Jesse Jackson criticized him for talking down to black people and later said Obama should be castrated for what he said.
President Obama is not the only black leader to face a backlash for speaking this important truth to the black community.
Bill Cosby, the legendary entertainer and civil rights activist, caused a firestorm in the black community with his speech to a 2004 NAACP Gala honoring the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Cosby’s speech inspired me to write my book, "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It ."
I am sorry to report that the problems that Cosby spoke about 10 years ago – the celebration of dysfunctional “Gangster Rap” culture, a third of black and Hispanic children dropping out of high school, disproportional rates of crime and drug use by children born out of wedlock – have only gotten worse over the years.
The backlash against those who dare to speak out about this – including the first black president of the United States – is fierce and brutal.
Liberals routinely make the case that these socioeconomic problems could be solved by spending more money on welfare and social safety-net programs.
But what they don’t tell you is that many of these programs have the effect of discouraging personal responsibility and family life. And, practically speaking, it is unrealistic to expect a renewed investment in these programs in this age of austerity.
It is much better to focus on what people can do for themselves to ensure that their children are not condemned to a life of dysfunction and debilitation.
This Valentine’s Day, it is worth the extra effort, the flowers, the chocolate, for individuals to invest in each other as married couples.
It will give your children the best possible chance for success, social stability and the opportunity to avail themselves of all the economic opportunities this country has to offer.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.