"In poor black areas of Chicago during the 1920s, it was considered a problem that 15 percent of births were out of wedlock. Once the Depression hit, that number went down to under 10 percent. Women who had several children by different men were marginal types. And men at that time worked at jobs that immigrants have since filled."
McWhorter connects the dots between the changes in welfare rules of the 1960s and the changes in norms of sexual and family behavior at the same time. Both, in his view, were devastating.
"In New York City at this time, welfare commissioner Mitchell Ginsberg.... pushed caseworkers to recruit new recipients and abolished screening requirements like interviews and home inspections. Until 1961, national welfare rules assumed that wherever a father could be identified, he ought to be expected to provide support. Between 1961 and 1968 that was relaxed....
"Bureaucrats went courting recipients, unconcerned with when, or even whether, they became independent again. The nation’s welfare rolls exploded, jumping from 4.7 million to 9.7 million between 1966 and 1970 alone. .... Between 1964 and 1976, the number of black children born to single mothers doubled. By 1995, more than three quarters of black youngsters were born out of wedlock. ... And that badly injured the next generation. Among black children living with two parents, poverty rates plunged from 61% in 1959 to just 13% in 1995, marking incredible progress. By that time, most black families were no longer living below the poverty line. Yet that same year, the poverty rate among black kids being raised by single women was fully 62%."
So in the name of "social justice," meaning income transfer to blacks, marriage became marginalized within the black community. And this pushing marriage to the margins of black society had devastating consequences for the economic and social well-being of blacks.
Elite opinion that celebrates diverse family forms is actively destructive of social justice. Our culture glamorizes early sexual activity, unmarried sexual activity, and unmarried childbearing. But these cultural influences have very different implications for poorly educated, low-income women of color, than for the elite opinion-makers who graduate from exclusive universities.
Upper class people have created a norm of years of unmarried, sterile sex before settling down to marry and raise a couple of children. But as these ideas cascade down the socio-economic ladder, they produce unmarried sexual activity with quite different consequences. Women who don’t look forward to glamorous careers view motherhood as their primary goal. Early sexual activity for them means early and frequent child-bearing. Early child-bearing all too often means a lifetime of poverty for themselves and their children.
Young people are often the most idealistic and zealous proponents of new social movements. So, I offer this challenge especially to the young: if you want to do something to help the poor, quit idealizing unmarried sexual activity. Some sexual lifestyle decisions you can get away with. But those very same choices would be a disaster for the poor.
So I challenge college students and young adults to ask yourself this question when you are making your decisions about sex: If a high-school drop-out did this, would it be good for her or not?
If the answer is no, don’t do it! Or at least, have the decency to keep your mouth shut about social justice.
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com
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