The cardinal rule for writing about child poverty if you are in the mainstream media is this: Never, ever mention single parenthood. This New York Times article on a study showing that one in three young families with children were living in poverty in 2010 scrupulously obeys the rule. The Times offers several possible reasons for this recent rise in child poverty, including the high-tech, high-skills economy and the greater difficulties of going on welfare following the 1996 federal welfare-reform law. It never articulates, however, what is overwhelmingly the largest predictor of child and family poverty: The family is not a two-parent household. In 2007, single-parent families were nearly six times more likely to be poor than married-parent families; that ratio has not significantly changed. The closest the Times comes to acknowledging the role of single parenthood in child poverty is to note that blacks and Hispanics have the highest rates of child poverty. Why that would be, the Times does not say, but it’s just what you’d expect from groups whose illegitimacy rates are 73 percent and 53 percent, respectively.
Of course, any MSM article about child poverty will foreground single mothers in its anecdotes section, but their all-important status as single parents will not be noted. The Times quotes a 27-year-old divorced mother of two in Atlanta and a 22-year-old mother of three in Atlanta, the latter of whom opines: “It’s just a hard time to be a parent.” In fact, it’s always a hard time to be a young, single parent. The inevitable crises of child-rearing can be far more catastrophic without the support system that a second parent provides.
The corollary to the ban on discussing family breakdown is the prohibition on mentioning the absent fathers. The children in an MSM article on child poverty may as well have been the product of a miraculous virgin birth, for all the acknowledgement that there is a biologically related male somewhere out there who, in a different world, would be directly contributing to the household income and welfare.
The ban on discussing the effect of family breakdown is not surprising, since the single mother has become the cornerstone of Democratic politics. She provides the justification for the continuous expansion of the welfare state. Whether the topic is government-provided health care for the poor, taxpayer-funded housing for homeless families, federal Section 8 rental vouchers, more early-childhood-intervention programs, or greater redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, the frequent flyers in all these programs are single mothers. They provide the largest constituency for every means-tested government poverty program in the country, and they are a growing constituency.
There is a far more efficient solution to family poverty and the childhood problems associated with single-parent families: Revive the marriage norm among the poor. Public policy’s ability to restore the expectation that children be raised by both their parents is undoubtedly limited. But it is better to try than to do nothing. And making child poverty a political issue without mentioning father absence is worse than doing nothing.