Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Society Cannot Tolerate Illegitimacy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Society Cannot Tolerate Illegitimacy

Article excerpt

Once in a while the sky really is falling, and this seems to be the case with the latest national figures on illegitimacy. In 1991, 1.2 million children were born to unmarried mothers, within a hair of 30 percent of all live births. How high is 30 percent? About four percentage points higher than the black illegitimacy rate in the early 1960s that motivated Daniel Patrick Moynihan to write his famous memorandum on the breakdown of the black family.

The 1991 story for blacks is that illegitimacy has now reached 68 percent of births to black women. In inner cities, the figure is typically in excess of 80 percent. It is time to think about the numbers as if we were back in the mid-1960s with the young Moynihan and asked to predict what would happen if the black illegitimacy rate were 68 percent.

Impossible, we would have said. But if the proportion of fatherless boys in a given community were to reach such levels, surely the culture must be "Lord of the Flies" writ large, the values of unsocialized male adolescents made norms - physical violence, immediate gratification and predatory sex. That is the culture now taking over the black inner city.

But the black story, however dismaying, is old news. The new trend that threatens the United States is white illegitimacy. Matters have not yet quite gotten out of hand, but they are on the brink. If we want to act, now is the time.

In 1991, 707,502 babies were born to single white women, representing 22 percent of white births. The elite wisdom holds that this phenomenon cuts across social classes. The real news of that study is that the proportion of single mothers with less than a high school education jumped to 48 percent from 35 percent in a single decade.

These numbers are dominated by whites. Breaking down the numbers by race (using data not available in the published version), women with college degrees contribute only 4 percent of white illegitimate babies, while women with a high school education or less contribute 82 percent. Women with family incomes of $75,000 or more contribute 1 percent of white illegitimate babies, while women with family incomes under $20,000 contribute 69 percent.

The National Longitudinal Study of Youth, a Labor Department study that has tracked more than 10,000 youths since 1979, shows an even more dramatic picture. For white women below the poverty line in the year prior to giving birth, 44 percent of births have been illegitimate, compared with only 6 percent for women above poverty. White illegitimacy is overwhelmingly a lower-class phenomenon.

This brings us to the emergence of a white underclass. In raw numbers, European-American whites are the ethnic group with the most people in poverty, most illegitimate children, most women on welfare, most unemployed men and most arrests for serious crimes. And yet whites have not had an "underclass" as such, because the whites who might qualify have been scattered among the working class. An underclass needs a critical mass, and white America has not had one.

But now the overall white illegitimacy rate is 22 percent. The figure in low-income, working-class communities may be twice that. The trends in black crime, dropouts from the labor force and illegitimacy all shifted sharply upward as the overall black illegitimacy rate passed 25 percent.

The white underclass will begin to show its face in isolated ways. Look for certain schools in white neighborhoods to get a reputation as being unteachable, with large numbers of disruptive students and indifferent parents. Talk to the police; listen for stories about white neighborhoods where the incidence of domestic disputes and casual violence has been shooting up. Look for white neighborhoods with high concentrations of drug activity and of men who have dropped out of the labor force.

My proposition is that illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time - more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness - because it drives everything else. …

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