Citizens Must Demand Responsibility

A paradoxical relationship exists between American cultural life and our economic well being. On one hand, anecdotal evidence abounds testifying to America’s cultural decline at the end of the millennium. On the other hand, the Dow Jones average, one of many economic indicators, is at historically high levels. Since 1960, our gross domestic product nearly tripled. Ironically, at the same time, total spending for social programs by all levels of government increased more than five times.

According to William J. Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, there is empirical evidence of America’s social regression. Writing in the November 1995, Imprimis, Bennett catalogues America’s social pathologies. At the top of his list, is the high percentage of births to unwed mothers. Bennett’s research ranks illegitimacy at 30 percent of all births today, and projects the rate to reach 40 percent by the end of the decade.

According to Dr. Donald Bogie, Alabama Center for Demographic Research, Alabama’s unwed birth rate for 1994 was nearly 35 percent. This represents an increase of almost 23 percentage points from 1960, when the rate was only 12 percent. By Alabama counties, the unwed birth rate varies from 70 percent in Willcox County to 9 percent in Shelby County.

Birthrates within marriage-based families are declining, at the same time the birthrates outside marriage are dramatically increasing. The statistics for births outside marriage beg some ponderous questions. For example, some experts predict that as more children grow up in homes without their father present or significantly participating in their lives, youth violence will become more prevalent. How will the aging majority of us cope with this increase in crime? Will we exchange our constitutional protections for our personal protection?

These are the kind of issues Americans need to be contemplating…because the truth is; America will become more violent. There is good social science literature demonstrating a direct relationship between violent crime and illegitimacy. A major 1988 study proves false the popular assumption of an association between race and crime. This study makes clear, illegitimacy, not race, is the key factor involved in violent crime. The explosion of black on black crime may well have been the proverbial canary, foretelling society’s future as we journey deeper into the darkness of families without fathers.

An increase in violent crime among children is not the only disastrous social consequence of unwed parenthood. As a class, parents of out-of-wedlock children suffer from high rates of poverty and unemployment as well as low school completion rates. It is the opinion of this columnist, that unwed parenthood, with the accompanying array of social disabilities, is the root cause many parents lack confidence in public schools. Some parents simply do not want to expose their children to children from non-marriage based homes.

In Montgomery as well as other communities, this lack of confidence in public schools is manifested by voters’ unwillingness to pass tax increases to adequately fund public education. This refusal to increase school taxes is myopic. Voters should be looking ahead 25 years to the day when today’s children will be working in America’s labor force.

Today’s children will reach adulthood in a more ethnically diverse society than our own. The politics of diversity in 2020 American society will be vastly different from today’s majority/minority paradigm. Minority children who grew up in this society, where the majority abandoned responsibility for public education, may well abandon their responsibilities to our generation when we are elderly and no longer the majority. Why? Because they will not have been socialized to assume that role.

Responsibility for one’s actions and to one’s children is the underlying issue. Government agencies cannot mandate marriage between every sexually active man and woman. However, in days past, most civilized societies vigorously discouraged sexual activity between unmarried men and women. At an earlier time, sex between unmarried adults was illegal in the United States. Should the government enact legislation again prohibiting sexual relations between unmarried citizens? No, there must be a better way.

In the past, laws prohibiting sexual activity between consenting adult men and women were discriminatory against women. Such an outcome is unacceptable today. However, governmental incentives could encourage couples to have children within marriage. For example, tax credits seem to produce behavior desired by the government. A combination of yearly tax credits and college tuition for their children may provide a couple with both; incentive for marriage and discouragement of divorce.

The United States is the most powerful nation ever. We are a great nation because of our ability to solve our national problems. We must solve our fatherless problem. As a people, we vigorously defend our right to individual freedom. It is time to demand individual responsibility just as vigorously.

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Originally Published: 4 April 1996, Montgomery Advertiser

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