Congress is considering a welfare-reform plan recently put forward by the nation's governors. Unfortunately, the governors' plan blithely ignores America's No. 1 social problem: the catastrophic rise of illegitimacy.
Nearly a third of American children born last year were born out of wedlock. The illegitimate birthrate is rising 1 percentage point every year.
In the black community, the out-of-wedlock birthrate is 69 percent. this figure astounds even Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who issued prophetic warnings about the erosion of marriage among blacks in the early sixties. Moynihan's warning was dismissed at the time, but the breakup of the black family and the accompanying social calamities have outstripped his worst nightmares.
Ominously, the illegitimate birthrate among whites is edging toward 25 percent, almost exactly equaling the black rate when Moynihan first raised his alarm. The white family is teetering on the same precipice, heading rapidly toward the same lethal decomposition that devastated black communities in the late sixties and seventies.
Family collapse is the root cause of other social problems: poverty, crime, drug abuse and school failure. Children born out of wedlock are seven times more likely to be poor than are those born to couples who stay married. Girls raised in single-parent homes on welfare are five times more likely to give birth out of wedlock when compared with girls from intact nonwelfare families. And a boy from a single-parent home in the inner city is twice as likely to engage in crime when compared with a similar boy who is poor but living with a father and a mother.
The nation's governors have responded to this grim reality by ignoring it. In unveiling their welfare-reform plan they have declared that there are three "key elements" to real welfare reform: providing more government-funded day care, increasing child-support payments from absent fathers and imposing time limits and work requirements (with of loopholes) on welfare recipients. The rise in illegitimacy and collapse of marriage do not merit even a token comment -- let alone aggressive policies -- from the governors.
Thus, during the last year, the welfare debate has undergone a radical metamorphosis from a focus on combating illegitimacy to a focus on providing public-support services to an ever-expanding population of single mothers. Eschewing the issue of illegitimacy entirely, the governors' plan instead appears as preparation for a future in which marriage plays a sharply diminished role and the government is involved heavily in meeting the needs of a burgeoning population of single-parent families. …