Academic journal article Policy Review

No More Home Alone

Academic journal article Policy Review

No More Home Alone

Article excerpt

Sociologist James Q. Wilson proposes that unmarried, pregnant girls live in some type of supervised, privately run group home as a condition of receiving government benefits. This, he argues, would help provide the social structure that young single mothers and their children now lack, but desperately need if they are to escape the cycle of dependence. Kathleen Sylvester of the Progressive Policy Institute describes a version of this concept that was approved by Congress last fall as part of its welfare reform package. President Clinton vetoed the bill.

James Q. WilsonBeginning with Our Children

The American political regime as envisioned by its founders was not supposed to have anything to do with character. It was supposed to enable people living in villages and towns to compose their differences at the national level in order to secure a more perfect

union and ensure domestic tranquillity and justice. It was assumed that it was in private associations (family, neighborhood, and peer groups) and small political institutions (village and town governments) that character could be formed, so the national government could take character for granted. "Men," Madison wrote, "are presumed to have sufficient virtue to constitute and maintain a free republic."

Today, by contrast, we are properly concerned with the issue of character, placed on the national agenda by both political parties. Why is it that the assumptions that influenced the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 are no longer the assumptions we bring to the contemplation of the true purpose of our national polity? One reason is that government has gotten bigger. As government gets bigger, it touches all aspects of our lives. As it touches all aspects of our lives, we increasingly put our concerns back on the government. The price of big government is an ever-expanding agenda.

Forty years ago, when I began studying politics, it was inconceivable that the federal government would ever be held responsible for crime, drug abuse, illegitimacy, welfare, civil rights, clean air, or clean water. Today it is responsible for all those things.

Not only have our aspirations and the size of the federal government changed, but so has our culture. In many spheres of our lives, we are no longer confident that local private institutions like families, churches, and neighborhoods are sufficient to form a culture that will sustain and enrich a free society. One of the areas in which this concern has become most sharply focused is illegitimacy. An illegitimacy crisis that affects both blacks and whites has been growing without let up since the early 1960s. It has shaped the profound debate now unfolding in Washington about the relationship between federal welfare programs and the very formation and maintenance of families.

When Title IV, which created the program now known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC),controversial part of that landmark legislation. For years after its enactment, it caused scarcely a national political ripple. The reason was that it gave federal support to a few state programs designed to provide short-term compensation to women who had been widowed due to the First World War or coal-mining disasters, or who had been divorced or deserted by husbands. It nationalized these programs by extending them to the other states.

No one expected it would become a way of life and no one ever expected teenagers would apply for it. All that has changed. Today, the typical new AFDC enrollee spends only two or three years on welfare and then moves on. It acts as a stopgap measure to provide for the needs of women and children during a particularly difficult time in their lives. This is the group for whom AFDC was originally intended.

But if you look at the total number of welfare recipients, as opposed to those who enter the roles in any given year, you notice that the typical recipient has been on welfare for 10 years. …

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