American Family Needs Some Help

Article excerpt

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

First of two parts

The Census Bureau's latest assessment of the American family is so, well, factual.

As Baby Boomers Age, Fewer Families Have Children Under 18 at Home, is the headline for the bureau's latest data dump.

Why are there more childless American homes? An aging population and changing fertility patterns, says bureau analyst Rose Kreider.

What's the big whoop about childless homes, readers may ask. Lots of young people aren't ready to have kids yet; get off their case. Empty-nest baby boomers and long-living grandparents explain the rest of the story.

The problem is this - America's social contract has gotten wildly out of balance, says Phillip Longman, senior fellow at the New America Foundation think tank.

In fact, it's so out of whack that the nation needs a brand-new family-based social contract.

The next generation is already highly encumbered by poverty, family break-up, a rising national debt, Mr. Longman and David Gray write in their November report, A Family-Based Social Contract.

Justice, and prudence, requires that we make a significant investment to restore and strengthen the American family, they conclude.

I like the analysis by these two pragmatic progressives.

In earlier years, Mr. Longman recently told me, the American family was viewed as an immutable, self-renewing bedrock institution. Marriage, parenthood and family were respected, even revered. A good community encompassed stable families, friends, religious life, public service and a thriving work sector.

Today, the cultural paradigm has shifted. The country deeply values its educated, moral, socially competent (and taxable) young workers, but it barely acknowledges the people who created, nurtured, loved and invested in these young workers for 20 years.

If you think about it, parents make a tremendous sacrifice in their time, money and careers to raise children, Mr. Longman said. And yet society really gives them no compensation. …