"We have a parenting problem, not a poverty problem," Mike Petrilli writes at Flypaper. I agree that parenting matters greatly to a child's academic success or failure, and in fact may be the single largest determining factor. But Petrilli concludes that the best way to solve the "parenting problem" is through cultural messaging promoting marriage and stigmatizing divorce, so that kids benefit from growing up in two-income households. This ignores, I think, the concrete reality of life in many low-income neighborhoods, where many women are making a rational choice when they remain single.
Here in New York, for example, only one of every four young black men has a job. The communities from which these men hail have also been decimated by the drug war; 17 percent of adult black males have been incarcerated, compared to 2.6 percent of white men. In addition, low-income women, regardless of race, are three times more likely to experience violence from an intimate partner.
In other words, as sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas demonstrate in one of my favorite books, Promises I Can Keep, low-income women often prefer to remain unmarried because the men in their lives–men facing chronic unemployment in the legitimate economy, or who may be addicted or engaged in criminal behaivior–simply do not make stable husbands or fathers.
If we want to get to the root causes of the "family values" issues in poor neighborhoods, we need to think not only about culture, but take a broad approach to social and economic policy-making, one that reforms the drug war, creates jobs, and, yes–educates people of all ages about the benefits of delaying childbearing and forming strong marriages.