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In welfare reform, governors miss the point.

Congress is now considering a welfare-reform plan recently proposed by the nation's governors. Unfortunately, this plan ignores America's biggest social problem: the catastrophic rise of illegitimacy.

Nearly a third of the children born in America last year were born out of wedlock. The illegitimacy rate is rising by a percentage point every year. And among blacks the out-of-wedlock birthrate has reached 69 percent. This figure astounds even New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who warned us in the early 1960s of the threat posed to the black community by the collapse of marriage. Moynihan's admonition was dismissed then, but the breakup of the black family and the calamities that have accompanied it are outstripping his most frightful predictions.

Ominously, the illegitimacy rate for whites is now edging toward 25 percent, almost exactly the rate for blacks when Moynihan first sounded his alarm. The white family now faces the same breakdown that has devastated black communities in the last 30 years.

Family collapse is the root cause of a host of social problems, including poverty, crime, drug abuse, and academic underachievement. Children born out of wedlock are seven times more likely to be poor than children born to couples who are married. Girls raised in single-parent homes on welfare are five times more likely to give birth out of wedlock than girls from intact, independent families. And a boy from a single-parent household in the inner city is twice as likely to become involved in crime as a similarly poor boy who lives 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: (1) providing more government-funded day care; (2) increasing child support payments from absent fathers; (3) imposing time limits and work requirements on welfare recipients. Rising illegitimacy and the collapse of marriage do not receive even passing comment.

This plan represents a radical shift in the focus of the welfare debate--from combating illegitimacy to providing public-support services to an ever-expanding population of single mothers. Dodging the illegitimacy issue entirely, the governors' plan promises a future in which marriage collapses further and the government must meet the needs of a burgeoning population of single-parent families. The triumph of the Left is complete: Fighting illegitimacy is "out,"

Some argue that federal action on illegitimacy is not needed, that the governors will tackle the problem. But the governors' silence speaks volumes. Few have made reducing illegitimacy a priority; most are reluctant even to mention the topic. But by refusing to acknowledge the dangers of collapsing marriages and rising illegitimacy, they implicitly condone and ultimately promote illegitimacy. The result: Soon, half of all American children will be born out of wedlock and reared in government-run day-care centers. This is not reform--this is a national disaster.

The governors' plan borrows heavily from the "reform" schemes of President Clinton and other liberal proposals. It also dovetails with the interests of America's huge welfare bureaucracy, which thrives on social decay. Although the plan will trim the growth rate of welfare spending slightly in the near term, it will lead to an explosion in welfare and social-service spending. In other words, we will have to pay the price for illegitimacy sooner or later.

Congress seems too willing to join the governors in ignoring illegitimacy. Under recent legislation, Congress will spend nearly a half trillion dollars over the next seven years to subsidize illegitimacy through welfare benefits, day care, job training, and other services. For every dollar spent to reduce illegitimacy, the federal government will spend about a thousand dollars on programs that contribute to it.

Marriage in America is dying, and the governors have prepared the coffin. Many in Congress seem willing to serve as pall bearers. But "welfare reform" is nonsense so long as the illegitimacy rate continues to rise. Vision and leadership are sorely needed--and the governors especially seem unable to provide either.
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Author:Rector, Robert
Publication:Policy Review
Date:May 1, 1996
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