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June 1, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This piece is about New Zealand, but it could be about the United States (New Zealand Herald, 5/30/16). Or Australia, Canada, Great Britain, etc. We all seem to be doing much the same dysfunctional thing with the same dysfunctional results.

A new study has been published by the lobbying organization, Family First, on single parenthood and child poverty. To those who follow issues like divorce, child custody, family law and related topics, the connection between poverty and single parenthood comes as no surprise.

Periodically, we in the U.S. receive the same message. Here, for example, about 33% of single mothers live in poverty. That means their kids do too. The U.S. Bureau of the Census reports that single mothers with custody of children have incomes on average of about $23,000 per year. It doesn’t take many kids in the home to plunge a family with that income below the poverty line.

We know the connection between single parenthood and poverty, but we doggedly refuse to address the problem. Indeed, living with a single parent may be the single biggest factor in poverty for children. And yet public discourse on the subject of poverty seldom even mentions the issue of single parenthood. Why would such a thing be true? It’s like trying to discuss air pollution in cities without talking about automobiles. Doing so hamstrings real debate.

And of course, as with other subjects, an unwillingness to include single parenthood in the debate on child poverty strongly suggests an unwillingness to address the problem. Doing so raises the obvious question, “Do the participants in the discussion really care about child poverty?” After all, how can they if such an important factor is simply off the table?

Well, it turns out we’re not alone. Discussions of child poverty in New Zealand seem just as determined to ignore the obvious as here in the U.S.

Parental breakups, not unemployment, are given in a new report as the prime cause of New Zealand's high rate of child poverty.

The report, published today by the Family First lobby group, says the near-trebling of sole parents from 10 per cent of families with dependent children in 1976 to 28 per cent of families in the last two censuses is "the elephant in the room" in the child poverty debate.

Right. “The elephant in the room” is the huge, obvious thing that no one can miss, but is still ignored. That’s the issue of the role of single parenthood in child poverty. We do the same thing here.

Why? Why would we be so dishonest as to pretend that single parenthood is a non-factor in child poverty when we well know it is? And why would we do such a thing when the well-being of children is literally at stake? Those are good questions, but from here it looks suspiciously like a refusal to criticize how mothers care for their children.

Back in the 60s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan ventured to point out the obvious regarding African-American families and was excoriated as a racist for doing so. The chorus of abuse he endured never paused to notice that what the man was actually doing was trying to help African-Americans by correcting domestic policy toward stabilizing families. But no one listened to Moynihan’s vital message.

Amazingly, white society is following the black community in the same direction with – surprise! – the same results. Dysfunctional behavior by itself is bad enough, but white Americans had an example of what not to do set out for us and then did it anyway. What are we, lemmings?

The Families First study reports a lot of data that closely resemble that of the U.S.

Child poverty has tracked sole parenting almost exactly. Children in homes earning below 60 per cent of the median household income rose from 14 per cent in 1982 to 30 per cent in 2001, then declined to 22 per cent by 2007, although they have risen again recently…

In 2014, 62 per cent of sole parents' children lived in homes earning less than 60 per cent of the median income, compared with only 15 per cent of children in two-parent homes…

Children born to legally married couples plunged from 95 per cent of births in 1961 to 51.3 per cent in 2010, before recovering in each year since then to 53.5 per cent in the latest March year.

All of that is strikingly similar to the U.S. Single parenthood and child poverty among New Zealand’s Maoris are much like what occurs in the African-American community.

For Maori, children born to legally married parents collapsed even more spectacularly from 72 per cent of Maori births in 1968 to just 20.9 per cent in 2011, recovering to 21.6 per cent in the latest year.

Among African-Americans in the U.S., about 72% of children are born to single mothers.

Some argue that data on the decline in marital childbearing is not important because it simply masks an increase in cohabiting couples having children. But that’s just another version of the old argument that marriage is “just a piece of paper.”

We know that’s not true. For whatever reason, families with married parents are more stable than those with single parents. That’s the case here and in New Zealand.

The report quotes Australian data showing that de-facto couples are much more likely than married couples to break up within five years, and that the five-year separation rate increased much faster for de-facto couples (from 25 per cent in the 1970s to 38 per cent in the 1990s) than for married couples (from 7 per cent to 9 per cent).

One amazing bit of information from the Families First study is this:

"The correlation between sole parent and child poverty rates is stronger than between unemployment and child poverty rates," says the report, by welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell.

To put it mildly, that’s astonishing. I don’t know if the same holds true in the U.S., but I’d be interested in finding out.

Public discourse in New Zealand follows the same nonsensical pattern as in the U.S.

"Unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and insufficient social security benefits are consistently blamed for child poverty, yet a major culprit (if not the major culprit) is family malformation, that is, a lack of two married committed parents."

Yes, you just think you see an elephant; it’s not really there.

As if to prove the point, the linked-to article offers this all-but-entirely irrelevant quotation:

However, Dr Susan St John of the Child Poverty Action Group said the report ignored the fact that marriage was not always good for women or their children.

"Intimate partner violence is not mentioned, nor the high rate of incarceration, especially of Maori males," she said. "The policy implications of this report, to reduce the safety net yet further and stigmatise the unwed, are extremely dangerous."

Of course no one has ever said that marriage is “always good for women or their children” or indeed anyone else. Nor does the report suggest damaging the social safety net or stigmatizing anyone. Those are all straw man arguments. As such, they strongly suggest that the august Ms. St. John has no real responses to the Families First report.

Does St. John realize that the report, whose cover includes a photo of an elephant, describes exactly what she’s doing? She’s attempting to derail the discussion on the most important aspect of child poverty because she has no rebuttal to its points. So she pretends the elephant’s not there.

Does she realize that, in her blind zeal to defend single motherhood, she’s promoting child poverty and all the dysfunctional behavior that’s known to accompany it? If she does, she doesn’t seem to care. If she doesn’t, she’s inexcusably ignorant.

We proceed as we are at our peril.

 

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