And yet, in another sense, welfare reform has been a failure. In an extraordinary paper, National Fatherhood Initiative president Wade Horn and Urban Institute scholar Isabel Sawhill note that 40 percent of our children still live apart from their fathers; as many as 60 percent will join fatherless households before they turn 18. Five years after welfare reform, a third of our children are born outside of marriage. "By focusing so heavily on moving mothers into the workforce," they remind us, "states have neglected to work on the equally important task of increasing the number of two-parent families." Welcome to the new welfare debate: How can we support not only work, but marriage?
In 1965, when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report sounded the alarm about the disintegrating black family, about a quarter of African-American children were born outside of marriage. Today, according to a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report, there are only two states (Utah and Idaho) where less than a quarter of babies are born out of wedlock. In Vermont, for example, where 96 percent of births are to white mothers, the illegitimacy rate jumped from 20 percent in 1990 to 28 percent in 1998. Florida's illegitimacy rate jumped from 32 percent in 1990 to 37 percent in 1998. In New York City, 45 percent of babies are born out of wedlock. Hartford, Conn., tops the list of the worst American city: 80 percent of babies are born to unwed mothers.
Connecticut Gov. John Rowland's response to the news was characteristic of the old mind-set that must change. His spokesman told The New York Times: "He's known for some time that Hartford and some other cities in the state lag behind the rest of the country." So what is Gov. Rowland doing about it this problem he's known so long about? Promoting urban renewal, he claimed, and education, and job training to help unwed mothers rise above poverty. Promoting everything, in short, but the thing that is missing: lasting, healthy marriage in low-income communities.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.