Revisiting Losing Ground by Charles Murray
I was at a political party talking trash when the subject of what books do you read came up. Most of the thirty something crowd liked the current political authors Jonah Goldberg Liberal Fascism, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Crash Proof by Peter Schiff and others. With the Internet and cable television people today have access to information that not so long ago was reserved for the halls of academia. Way back in 1984 before the Internet this was not the case. Government and private institutions hid embarrassing data like the CIA hiding the latest jet design from the USSR. One scholar, Charles Murray, decided to go public with a most politically incorrect set of data and observation that eventually let to welfare reform in 1996. The book was simply described as “explosive.”
So if welfare was reformed in 1996 why is the book still relevant? Because a lot of politicians today on the left and right want to impose the same mistakes and moral principals into law. The politicians on the right want to abolish abortion keep drugs illegal, keep prostitution illegal, and for women who want an abortion to force them to pay for an ultrasound to see their unborn baby they are about to kill. On the left they want even more government goodies for the “disadvantaged” to “even the playing field.” As with the goals for ending poverty on the left and making people more moral on the right both are fighting a battle that should not be fought. The proper role of the government should be to let moral law be decided by those of faith. History shows when the government interferes in the family structure with programs and policies disaster follows.
First some highlights of Losing Ground. The book shows that the greatest gains in black education and employment were from 1950 to 1965. You will not learn that in any textbook today. Up to that point black teenage unemployment was 19% compared to 15% for white teenagers. Two parent families had been stable for decades at 78% compared to 88% for whites. Out of wedlock births varied little from 4.5% to 5.3% overall for both races. Then from 1965 to 1970 the year the Great Society programs were signed into law and gradual implementation and spending for the programs the poor and especially black progress towards integration into mainstream society took a huge leap BACKWARD.
The easiest example to understand why this happened is the case of a couple of teenagers starting a new family with a child on the way. Back in 1960 a woman could get Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) $23 dollars a week (about $171 today) and could not have a live in boyfriend. She was subject to unannounced searches of her residence for evidence of a live in boyfriend. This means that the man cannot live off the welfare of the woman and must set up a separate household with the accompanying expenses. If the man gets a bare substance job he will make after taxes $111 a month (about $824 after taxes today). So the choice was $690 a month and living alone with duel residences or $824 with a single residence, social approval, psychological and physical comforts. Statistics show most couples in this predicament choose marriage.
By 1970 the equation had completely changed. Unannounced inspections of a woman’s residence were eliminated; men could come and go as they pleased. AFDC payments were $50 dollars a week (about $1160 a month today); food stamps $11 a week (about $255 a month), rent subsidies and Medicaid another $5 a week (about $116 a month). On the conservative side an unwed mother would get $66 a week (about $1550 a month today). A typical low wage job would pay $64 a week (about $1,480 a month). The woman gets these benefits as long as she is unwed and there is no legal responsibility for care from the father. Clearly for any young couple starting out the contrast is quit stark from the 1960 couple. By the mother remaining unwed and with no father they can double their purchasing power ($1,480 verses $3,030 today’s dollars), the man can cohabitate as he pleases. If life becomes difficult the couple can split up and go their separate ways.
As a result of this federal government intervention into the low income black families out of wedlock births went from less than 25% to over 50%, two parent families dropped from 78% to 60%, homicide almost doubled, rape, theft all increased in black communities. The one group that escaped was upper income blacks who took advantage of their opportunities and left these communities in large numbers making huge strides in white collar employment opportunities.
This is just one example in the game changing book but my point is that when the government gets involved in family law there are unintended consequences no matter how good the intentions of the law are. As Mr. Murray correctly points out the greatest strides in family formation, out of wedlock stability, black economic progress, black educational progress was from the period of 1950 to 1965 when there was very little government intervention into black and poor white families. Is there a lesson to be learned here?
I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior. I believe God gave man free will. Jesus if he were alive today would use the power of the church to fight abortion and other social issues. I somehow don’t envision Jesus lobbying Pontius Pilate for anything. Render to Cesar what is Cesar’s.
Republicans would be smart to understand the true root causes of the destruction of the family in America and look to get to that cause. Passing ultra sound laws will cost mostly poor women extra money and for some even further traumatize them for the rest of their life. Maybe some babies will live. But is it the role of the state to enforce moral law? Would Jesus lobby Pontius Pilate for an equivalent law?
Outlawing abortion on the federal level will drive it underground just like drugs, prostitution and other very expensive law enforcement issues. Do we go back to throwing doctors in jail? How will that look on every cable news outlet? That will be a one way ticket into oblivion for the Republican Party.
Conservative religious politicians who want to attempt moral laws that are destructive (or help?) to the family should first recognize what the bad laws are first. This would include child support payments and their effect on the divorce rate. Tough hard issues that will make a change for millions of parents and children. Without a basic understanding of these issues there will most likely be more harm done than good. We need to get back to 1960 where it made more sense for a young couple to get married then playing the system. Anything less is politics.