MICHIGAN, April 16, 2012 — “We will compete everywhere,” declared a resilient Rick Santorum during a victory speech to his supporters after winning both Alabama and Mississippi last month. On Tuesday, however, this dream of capturing the Republican Party presidential nomination and garnering vast support was shattered as he suspended his campaign to tend to his ailing daughter. Despite suspending his campaign, Santorum courageously gave rise to the hotly contested issue of whether morality is necessary for economic prosperity, unabashedly and boldly asserting the importance of preserving the family structure and the moral fabric of the nation as necessary for an economic revival.
Santorum stated, “The biggest problem with poverty in America … is the breakdown of the American family.” He further went on to say, “We need to have policies that support families, encourages marriage, and has fathers take responsibility for their children.” Despite using such poignant rhetoric, Santorum won 11 states and 285 delegates, shocking primary voters, the media, and Governor Romney’s well-financed campaign apparatus.
Santorum was no longer the “dark horse” in the race. His ascent in the national polls, most would agree, was at least partially due to such outspoken rhetoric about the need for an ironclad family structure and its pivotal role in economic policy. He ignited conservative voters by courageously venturing into a matter regarded as taboo by some for its potential to offend others. The other candidates circumvented the issue, removing the term “family” from their vernacular, focusing on taxes, regulations, and the deficit.
Santorum’s choice to invoke the words “God” and “Christianity” in some of his campaign speeches and interviews infuriated some in the media who believed he was violating the principle of separation of church and state. The antipathy towards him by some in the media reached new heights once they recognized that his message linking morality and economic decay was resonating, leading to a tidal wave of disparaging remarks.
Santorum was referred to as a “mullah,” and “theocrat,” and some even nicknamed him Rick “Sanitorium.” This, in spite of the fact that he reiterated on numerous occasions these were his personal beliefs guided by his faith and that he didn’t necessarily want government solutions to these social issues.
But launching ad hominem attacks and questioning one’s allegiance to the Constitution does not advance an open, honest debate. Why not delve into the core issue and investigate whether indeed a correlation exists between economic prosperity and the family structure? To neglect to do so would be turning a blind eye, since all causes for an economic crisis that affects one’s livelihood should be considered and examined.
Children Born Out of Wedlock
A large number of children are born out of wedlock today, and this number is steadily increasing. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), from 2006 to 2010, 46%, or almost ½ of first births to mothers (ages 15-44) occurred out of wedlock. This is an 8% jump from 2003, when just 38% of first births occurred out of wedlock. Among the 46% first births occurring out of wedlock, approximately ½ were to women in cohabitating unions. The percentage of children born out of wedlock to both unmarried and cohabitating mothers has steadily increased in the past decade.
Does parental arrangement have anything to do with the likelihood of having a child out of wedlock?
According to the CDC, men and women who lived with both parents at age 14 had substantially less chance of having a premarital 1st birth than those in some other type of living arrangement. Men who did not live with both parents had a 55% chance of having a premarital first birth, while those who did live with both parents only had a 35% chance. Women who lived with both parents at age 14 were 20% less likely to have a premarital first birth than those with other living arrangements.
Simply stated, the findings suggest that children living with their biological mother and father, at least up until the age of 14, are far less likely to have premarital first births than those in some other living arrangement. Thus, a cohesive family structure appears to thwart the likelihood of out-of-wedlock births.
Poverty Rates for Children Raised in Single Parent Homes
There has been a steep decline in the number of children born to married mothers in the past century. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 90% of children were born to married mothers in 1950, while just 59% were born to married mothers in 2008.
There are numerous adverse consequences associated with children being born to a single mother. The most troubling issue is that this is a major cause of child poverty. Rick Santorum stated that, “It’s five times the rate of poverty in single-parent households than it is in two-parent homes.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the vast majority of poor families with children are headed by single parent families. Specifically, single parent families comprise over 70% of the families with children that are living in poverty. On the other hand, married families comprise 74% of all families with children that are not living in poverty.
Marriage drops the rate of poverty significantly. In fact, if you directly compare the poverty rate of single parents with children to that of married couples with children, you will find that the rates are 36% and 6% respectively. So Rick Santorum actually turned out to be wrong when he stated that the poverty rate for single parents with children was five times greater; it’s actually six times greater.
Bleak Future for Children Raised in Single Parent Families
The forecast looks grim for children raised in single parent households. Even after controlling for such variables as race and parent’s education, studies have shown that when compared to children raised in married homes, children raised in single parent households are:
- 3x more likely to end up in jail by the age of 30
- Twice as likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems
- 1/3 more likely to drop out before completing high school
- 50% more likely to experience poverty as adults
The most troubling aspect of this is that the effects of being raised in a single parent household continue to adulthood. As indicated, they are far more likely to have a premarital first birth than a child raised by married couples. They will also have higher rates of criminality and lack of education, two major obstacles in obtaining gainful employment, hence conducive to poverty.
As can be inferred from the statistics, children raised in single parent families often mimic the lifestyle of their parents, and a vicious cycle ensues as their fate remains largely the same, leading to what has been termed “generational poverty.” Ultimately, the ramifications associated with allowing this cycle to perpetuate will hamper our ability to get our fiscal house in order.
Of the $400 billion dollars spent in fiscal year 2010 by the government on welfare assistance to low income families with children, $300 billion dollars went to single parent households.
The higher rates of incarceration among these children born in single parent homes will also bleed over into greater deficits. There is already massive overcrowding in our prisons with approximately 2,000,000 people currently incarcerated. On average, it costs more than $70 per day to house a prisoner. Do we continue to pay exorbitant costs and build more prisons for the rapidly increasing inmate population, or do we try to implement policies that empower these communities through education and other programs?
Any dialogue about economic policy that ignores the need to address the erosion of marriage and the family structure will prove to be futile. The religious rhetoric that Santorum invokes when discussing the need to promote traditional marriages and strong families should not act as a “smokescreen,” causing us to dismiss his statements as absurd or irrelevant.
Rick Santorum exposed the elephant in the room, paving the way to more candid discussions about policies that can keep families intact, and the importance of fathers bringing more to the table than just paychecks. Marriage just may be, after all, the strongest weapon in our arsenal in combating poverty, reducing criminality, and increasing educational attainment.
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