Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"The Scourge of Illegitimacy"

Haley Barbour was re-elected Governor of Mississippi last fall and was sworn in for his second (and final) term yesterday. Why his Inauguration Speech hasn't become one of the hottest topics in the blogosphere is a real mystery to me.

Barbour made one of the most outrageous statements I've heard in recent years. Barbour stepped way over the politically correct line and dared to suggest we move our morality back to about 1955, the days of Lucy and Desi, Beaver Cleaver and Father Knows Best.

Barbour would have us bring back the scarlet letter, the shame 0f unwed pregnancy, the sin of motherhood without benefit of marriage.

And Barbour had the gall to do it smack dab in the middle of the biggest and most important speech of the year, his Inauguration Address!

"....we must not only improve education and workforce skills but also combat and reduce the scourge of illegitimacy. It is virtually impossible for significant economic progress to take root where there has been major decline in the family structure."

The Scourge of Illegitimacy? As a religious liberal and a social liberal I thought we had moved beyond casting shame upon a woman who finds herself in a difficult situation. Finally, at least in Western Society, an unwed pregnant girl is allowed to hold her head up high, complete her education, have a career and a future.

The turning point in our society's attitude is often considered the episode of the landmark television series Murphy Brown, when the successful, very single, reporter decides to have and raise a baby without having a husband!

Reviled and mocked by Republicans and conservatives and Evangelical Christians, the show was still the turning point in society's attitude toward unwed motherhood. If Candice Bergen's Murphy Brown can raise a child and pursue a career without being married, then any woman can!

And, as it turns out, 20 years later, many, many woman do.

But the societal change that was supposed to liberate women, also freed men from the responsibility of marriage. And it cleared one of the very last obstacles to premarital sex.

And so illegitimacy rates have exploded. While rates among blacks has stabilized at an astonishing 68% of all birth, rates among whites and other races are rising rapidly. Overall, the percentage of children born outside of wedlock is 33.5%

Sadly, what today's women haven't been able to duplicate is Murphy Brown's career and financial success. In fact, illegitimacy has become a financial disaster for the women and for society itself.

The facts are terrifying.

Children in one-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school as those in two-parent homes.

Boys in one-parent families are much more likely to be both out of school and out of work.

Girls in one-parent families are twice as likely to have an out-of-wedlock birth.

Children raised in single-parent homes are more likely to be suspended from school, to have emotional problems, and to behave badly.

Boys whose fathers are absent from the household have double the odds of being incarcerated. This is true even when other factors, such as race, income, parents' education, and urban residence, are held constant.

Family structure is even more important than income. Each year spent without a father in the home increases the odds of future incarceration by 5 percent, so that a child born to an unwed mother is 2.5 times more likely to end up imprisoned, versus 1.5 times for a boy whose parents split up when he was a teenager.

But, in spite of these and dozens of other facts from studies over the last 20 years, it is still politically incorrect to say what Haley Barbour said.

But it is a real problem. And, in our society we don't stop for a second to legislate controls and prohibitions against behavior much less damaging that illegitimacy. Seat belt laws, child restraints and booster seats, and limits or outright prohibitions against smoking, drinking and drugs are common.

Laws are routinely passed to protect the welfare and health of children. And yet politically correct society dare not even mention the single factor that has been proven to place the child at risk of poverty, failed educational outcome, drug addiction, criminal behavior, incarceration and even worse.

At least until Haley Barbour did the unthinkable. He came out and said illegitimacy was a serious problem that must be addressed.

Haley Barbour's complete Inauguration Address can be found here.

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