September 28, 1995

September 28, 1995 | Commentary on Family and Marriage

Whistling In The Dark

Congress is crashing head-on into the devastating problem of illegitimacy, and balking.

Decades after liberal ideology declared marriage obsolete and liberal welfare policy discouraged it, America has reaped a bitter harvest: Millions of children growing up without dads, and moms struggling through life without much hope for the future.

Congress is now trying to hash out the differences between House and Senate versions of a comprehensive welfare-reform bill. Unfortunately, liberals of both parties seem determined to join with President Clinton and block reforms that could help avert further social catastrophe. They are on the verge of shooting down a plan to deny welfare increases to unwed mothers who have more children while they're on welfare. That means: Taxpayers will continue to subsidize out-of-wedlock births.

Yet, the numbers are stark and incontrovertible. We are becoming a nation of fatherless children. And fatherless children grow up to commit more violent crime, take more illegal drugs and become statistics in more social pathologies than any other group.

Unmarried mothers gave birth to 80 percent of all black children born in the inner city in 1994. But the problem goes far beyond the inner city. In 1965, when a worried young strategist in the Johnson administration's War on Poverty warned of the end of the black family, 25 percent of all black births were to unmarried mothers. Today, nearly 30 percent of all births in America -- regardless of color -- are to unmarried mothers.

In other words, the country as a whole has now gone further down the road of family disintegration than the black family had in 1965. Sadly, Sen. Daniel Moynihan, D-N.Y. -- who first warned of this problem -- is now among the senators blocking genuine welfare reform.

America must stop providing a financial incentive for women on welfare to have children out of wedlock. The only way to do that is to cut off additional payments to those who have more babies while on public assistance, and to deny benefits to girls under 18 who give birth to illegitimate children.

This is not as heartless as it sounds -- after all, does your boss give you an automatic raise if you have more children? If you were contemplating a new addition to the family and your boss said, sure, we'll give you a raise to take care of it, wouldn't you be more likely to go ahead?

Meaningful welfare reform also must require mothers to name the fathers of their children as a condition of receiving welfare payments -- to make dads pay child support.

The alternative is to just keep whistling in the dark. If Congress can't muster the courage to take these measures, here's what's in store for America:

  • Crime -- A state-by-state analysis by The Heritage Foundation found a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime for every 10 percent hike in the number of children living in single-parent homes. Get ready to pay higher taxes for more policemen, more judges, more prisons and more dangerous neighborhoods.
  • Health -- Babies born to unmarried mothers face a "substantially higher risk" of serious infant health problems, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. More money, therefore, will be needed for Medicaid.
  • Education -- Children from single-parent homes do more poorly in school, and are more likely to be truant or have disciplinary problems, according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Schools will become more dangerous and kids will learn even less.
  • Economy -- Problems in school mean problems in the workplace. Look for lower productivity and higher unemployment.

When are liberal politicians in Washington going to get it? The brand of "compassion" they've been dealing out is killing us. It's time to do something about it.

Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

Return to The Heritage Foundation's Commentarysection.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office