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January 29, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

And while we’re on the subject of ignorance about parenting and children’s welfare, we might as well turn to this article by Charles M. Blow (New York Times, 1/28/15).  I usually like Blow’s work well enough, but he needs to rethink this one.

His subject is child poverty and he’s rightly indignant that, in the world’s richest economy, so many children barely get by.  Good for him.  But his problem stems from his reliance on the recent publication by the Children’s Defense Fund, entitled “Ending Child Poverty Now.”  It should come as no surprise that, in the entire CDF piece, no mention is made of single parenthood or how it promotes poverty.

That’s right, an organization that supposedly has children’s best interests at the core of its mission, can’t seem to say a word about single parenthood despite the fact that, it’s one of the main contributors — perhaps THE main contributor — to child poverty.

To Blow’s credit, he at least tosses out a tangential mention of the matter.

People may disagree about the choices parents make — including premarital sex and out-of-wedlock births. People may disagree about access to methods of family planning — including contraception and abortion. People may disagree about the size and role of government — including the role of safety-net programs.

Yes, that’s as close as he gets to coming to grips with the issue of single parenthood and its terrible impact on children’s lives, particularly their lack of access to resources.  One sentence.  And what a sentence it is!  Yes, people do disagree about those subjects and you’d think Blow, who’s supposedly taking a stand against child poverty, might take a stand on those issues as well.  But no.  He skips past them fast enough to convince us he’s unable to say what needs to be said.

That’s strange enough, but stranger still is the manner in which he leads off his op-ed.

I’m not someone who believes that poverty can ever truly be ended — I’m one of those “the poor will always be with you” types — but I do believe that the ranks of the poor can and must be shrunk and that the effects of poverty can and must be ameliorated.

He then goes on to contradict himself.

But surely we can all agree that no child, once born, should suffer through poverty.

No, actually, if “the poor will always be with you,” then some of those will be children.  So in fact Blow does not agree that “no child… should suffer through poverty.”  He in fact acknowledges that many will do exactly that.

But whatever his actual level of concern about child poverty, Blow’s (and the CDF’s) utter disregard of single parenthood is shameful.  Indeed, it’s fair to conclude that neither of the two can be terribly worried about the plight of children born to the poor, since neither bothers to mention the obvious.

It’s a simple concept: the decision to have a child without a partner is a bad one.  Yes, there are exceptions to that rule.  A person with sufficient financial resources and enough friends and relatives to do what a husband, wife or partner would normally do can get along well enough with a child.  But those are rare.  Indeed, in the United States, only 8% of mothers with a college education chose to have a child out-of-wedlock.  And of course “out-of-wedlock” doesn’t necessarily mean “without a committed, loving partner.”  Those having children without a partner are overwhelmingly either poor or at risk of becoming so.  They’re the ones to whom Blow fails to state the truth — that having a child without a partner is financially perilous for both mother and child.

But when 41% of single mothers with children in the household live at least part of the child’s life in poverty, you’d think it’d get the attention of the likes of Blow and the CDF.  It didn’t.

For its part, the CDF was too busy dreaming up new federal programs to notice the poverty rates of children in single-mother-headed households.  It did so in a country whose federal government has never been more in debt, meaning new and costly programs aren’t likely to be approved any time soon, if ever.

So why not recommend one that’s essentially free?  Why not urge federal, state and local governments along with private foundations, non-profit organizations and the like to begin preaching what we know to be true — that single parenthood is usually a bad idea.  In those messages, why not emphasize the poverty factor as well as the fact that children do best with two parents in their lives.  Sending that message would cost little and, if we did it consistently and often, over time, I suspect it’d have an effect.

We can’t demand that people marry, or not have babies out of wedlock, but we can deliver the message that the decision to have a child, whether you’re the mother or the father, must also be a decision to see the matter through until the child turns 18 at least.  That means staying together so the child has two parents and two incomes.  If staying together is impossible, it means equal parenting of the child.

Child poverty is indeed a thorny issue.  Ignoring one of its main causes may make writing about it less worrisome, but we can’t do so and also solve the problem.  Charles Blow should know better.  The CDF?  I’m not so sure.

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