Suzanne Fields

Lifestyles of the rich and famous have never been the same as lifestyles of the poor and anonymous, but for a while we acted as though they were. As Kay Hymowitz reminds us in her persuasively documented book called "Marriage and Caste in America," a typical single mother is neither the fictional version of Murphy Brown of sitcom fame, whose kid practically disappeared in the show because the writers didn't know what to do with him, nor Angelina Jolie, who is considered half a couple with Brad Pitt, with their natural daughter and several adopted children, but so far without a marriage license.

Few people today think divorce and single parenthood are equal-opportunity misfortunes in a house on the beach of Malibu or a trailer camp in West Virginia, but we're still slow in finding solutions for the disastrous consequences of single parenthood in the underclass, which more than any other single ingredient contributes to a caste system in America.

Welfare reform did much to remove financial incentives for poor women to continue having illegitimate children, but illegitimacy remains a big problem for poor blacks, and the caste systems widens for children who grow up without fathers. Poor single mothers generally lack marketable skills that will carry them into a higher financial bracket, and their children are at a major educational disadvantage when competing with children of middle-class families.

These single moms have lost considerably more than a man in the house. They've lost the middle-class script for planning for the future, and they've lost the traditional institutional arrangement that's required for upward mobility, made all the more crucial in a knowledge economy when a college drop-out can no longer find a job in manufacturing.

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as assistant secretary of labor in 1965, sounded the call of a prophet, drawing attention to the soaring numbers of fatherless families in the black community, he was excoriated by so-called revolutionary scholars, radical feminists and civil rights leaders who branded him a "racist" blind to the positive power of the black matriarch "role model."

Well that was then, and this is now, and despite welfare reform, the ghetto is still reeling from cultural attitudes that contribute to a black youth's rapper vocabulary that celebrates irresponsible behavior of boys in the 'hood, who look at women as "hos." When the white revolutionaries in the '60s narcissistically valued independence over bourgeois marriage, they overlooked the importance of marriage as a social institution. Ideologically, we moved from a child-centered nation to an adult-centered one, separating children from parents, function from form.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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