Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Political Leaders Examine Navels, Find Lint

The most obvious solution to one of our worst problems continues to elude our political leaders, but at least, in Connecticut anyway, they seem to have admitted that fatherless children and the policies that encourage this destructive reality are destroying American society. Both the causes of this problem and the possible solutions are self-evident, but the will to try to solve them is largely missing.

Our society is disintegrating partly because manufacturing jobs for unskilled and semi-skilled workers disappeared from the cities where most of these people lived, and the welfare programs that were put in place to cushion the blows of joblessness have created more problems than they have solved. One of the first states to start to come apart from the stresses and strains of ever-increasing welfare and ever-decreasing good jobs for unskilled people is my original home state, Rhode Island, Connecticut’s neighbor. Rhode Island now confronts an insurmountable budget deficit, largely owing to its welfare bill that consumes about 45% of its budget, and its total lack of success in carrying out welfare reforms put in place a decade ago.

I have several times called for a program to subsidize manufacturing jobs in the inner cities while converting AFDC welfare from a lifestyle to an emergency program. With little fanfare, the new RI budget to avoid bankruptcy has an interesting provision: welfare recipients can now only collect for a maximum of two years, and can only reapply after five years. In addition a recipient is limited to a total of four cumulative years on welfare.
I would have preferred a limit of six months to the two years, but I am greatly encouraged that this state, RI, known as a welfare magnet and a paradise for state workers, could even come up with this change. Now they need to encourage and subsidize low-skilled manufacturing jobs lost to foreign competition, union overreach and technological obsolescence.

Will Connecticut follow RI’s lead? Not by the looks of it:

Can state get relevant to poverty cycle?
MANCHESTER, Conn. August 1, 2008 Providence Journal

GOVERNMENT in Connecticut long has had two central problems. The first is that state law puts the compensation of public employees outside the ordinary democratic processes of budgeting, so there no longer is any relationship between that compensation and the public’s ability to pay it. As a result, the living standards of the government class race ahead of those of the public even as services to the public decline.

Second, most public policy is never evaluated for results even as much policy plainly fails and even worsens social conditions. For example, while drug criminalization is thought to be meant to diminish drug abuse, it has not done so; it has only filled the prisons with a disproportionately minority population, surrendered the cities to crime, and sustained an expensive criminal-justice apparatus.

Connecticut’s most damaging public-policy failure is probably welfare benefits — income, housing and food stipends, and medical insurance better than what many responsible working families have — for unmarried people who have children they are grossly unprepared to support. This is a subsidy for childbearing outside marriage, an antisocial act infinitely more devastating than many things the state has criminalized, such as smoking marijuana or talking on cell phones while driving. For it usually condemns children to poverty and neglect and often to much worse, like drugs and prison, where there are not many people who grew up with two parents who were ready and able to raise them properly.

Like drug criminalization, the policy of subsidizing childbearing outside marriage worsens social conditions even as it supports an expensive government apparatus — the apparatus of social work, as typified by the ever-disastrous state Department of Children and Families, one of whose social workers has just been charged with killing a young ward. Until recently policy efforts have been directed only toward improving DCF, as if government somehow can turn uneducated, unskilled, and often abused and psychologically damaged young and unmarried women into good parents. More often this coddling results only in another generation of such young women and incorrigible young men — the classic cycle of poverty

But state government could be on the verge of waking up.

Prompted by state Sen. Gary D. LeBeau (D.-East Hartford) and Sen. Edward Meyer (D.-Guilford), and a bill they backed that won unanimous passage in the Senate, House Speaker James A. Amann (D.-Milford) is appointing a task force of 12 legislators and distinguished citizens to study the problem of fatherlessness and how public policy may be contributing to it.

LeBeau, who recently retired from a long career in teaching, and Meyer, a former federal prosecutor, saw plenty of the fatherlessness problem in their professional lives. LeBeau will chair the task force with Rep. Bruce Morris (D.-Norwalk), who notes that girls who grow up without fathers in the home are seven times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers than girls in two-parent homes.

Announcing the task force, Speaker Amann said, “Children growing up in homes without fathers face longer odds, including an increased likelihood of struggling in school and becoming involved in crime. . . . Fatherlessness has proven a root cause of these costly outcomes. It will be the charge of this task force to offer the legislature a clear picture of how to begin to address this serious problem.”

Fifty years ago there was a social stigma against childbearing outside marriage. Much of that stigma was inspired by sexual Puritanism rather than the wisdom of the ages — that the family is the foundation of decent society, progress, and prosperity. But at least that stigma was effective, and the sexual freedom that replaced it has been oppressive as well as liberating. For while sexual freedom is one thing, the abuse of women, the destruction of the family, and the cycle of poverty are something else.

Any policy changes that could diminish the problem are likely to be controversial and maybe even expensive at first. Is Connecticut ready to track down and require child support from absent fathers? Is the state ready to put the children of incapable unmarried women into group homes or to arrange adoptions for them rather than set the women up at public expense with children they had no business having?

Is the state ready to impose another sort of stigma on childbearing outside marriage — a stigma based not on sexual Puritanism but on child protection and the survival of society?

Don’t bet on it. But just asking such questions officially may be the most relevant thing state government has done in years.

Unfortunately, nowhere in this article is the possibility of eliminating or changing welfare or are the underlying problems caused by the lack of good, unskilled jobs even mentioned. I would be willing to bet real money that the study mentioned above will come to nothing. We don’t need another study. We need to act.


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