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Understanding Illegitimacy
Teen pregnancy isn't the story. The demise of marriage is.


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Robert Rector

The press has rushed to report a minuscule drop in “teen births” based on data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). As usual, the mainstream media are focusing on a trivial, politically correct story while ignoring the real story buried in the data. 
 
Here’s the real story: According to CDC, a record 40.6 percent of children born in 2008 were born outside marriage — a total of 1.72 million children. The overwhelming majority of the unwed mothers were young adults with low education levels, precisely the kind of individuals who have the greatest difficulty going it alone in our society. 
 

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Only about 7.5 percent of these out-of-wedlock births, 130,000, were to girls under 18. Of course, these births can be disastrous for the girls involved. But as a social problem, teen pregnancies and births are of quite limited importance. By contrast, 1.72 million out-of-wedlock births amount to an overwhelming catastrophe for taxpayers and society. 

The steady growth of childbearing by single women and the general collapse of marriage, especially among the poor, lie at the heart of the mushrooming welfare state. This year, taxpayers will spend over $300 billion providing means-tested welfare aid to single parents. The average single mother receives nearly three dollars in government benefits for each dollar she pays in taxes. These subsidies are funded largely by the heavy taxes paid by higher-income married couples. 
 
America is rapidly becoming a two-caste society, with marriage and education at the dividing line. Children born to married couples with a college education are mostly in the top half of the population; children born to single mothers with high-school degrees or less are mostly in the bottom half. 
 
The disappearance of marriage in low-income communities is the predominant cause of child poverty in the
U.S. today. If poor single mothers were married to the fathers of their children, two-thirds of them would not be poor. The absence of a husband and father from the home also is a strong contributing factor to failure in school, crime, drug abuse, emotional disturbance, and a host of other social problems. 
 
In 1963, as Pres. Lyndon Johnson was launching the War on Poverty, 7 percent of American children were born outside marriage. White House staffer Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later
U.S. Senator from New York, warned the nation of the calamities associated with the growing number of out-of-wedlock births. For more than 40 years, our society has ignored Moynihan’s warnings. Despite the transparent linkages among poverty, social problems, and disintegration of the family, the liberal intelligentsia has watched the steady collapse of marriage in low-income communities with silent indifference. 
 



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