By NEMS Daily Journal
The disturbing increase in the percentage of Northeast Mississippi’s children living in poverty – reported by Emily LeCoz in the Sunday Journal – has links to the economic downturn starting in late 2007, but the background statistics about childhood poverty are dominated by a single fact: the absence of married fathers in the home.
The issue for our state isn’t racial; it’s an accelerating trend among both black and white mothers. Nearly 55 percent of all births in Mississippi are to single mothers.
Single motherhood carries with it pronounced liabilities and probabilities for the children involved: nutrition, health, intellectual nurture, and in the long term probably lower educational attainment, more likelihood of dropping out, a higher probability of going to jail, and a higher probability of remaining in poverty as a working-age adult.
Because single mothers tend to be education under-achievers, their jobs and employment prospects are less than average, so when a recession hits they are more vulnerable.
Researchers in every reputable scientific study of family life and structure in the United States identify the rise in single-parent families (especially mother-child families) as a major factor driving the long-term increase in child poverty. The overarching fact is undisputed that children in lower-income, single-parent families face the most significant barriers to success in school and the work force.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, reports that U.S. Census data shows “the poverty rate in 2008 for single parents with children was 35.6 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.4 percent. Being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by about 80 percent.”
Marriage is a powerful weapon in fighting family poverty.
The remarkable change of the past half-century is illustrative: In 1963, 93 percent of American children were born to married parents. Today the number has dropped to 59 percent nationwide.
“The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system,” Heritage reported, “with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high school degree or less. Single parents now comprise 70 percent of all poor families with children.”
In Mississippi, the number of children born to single mothers will continue to act as dead weight on prosperity.
Mississippi badly needs to revisit the issue of single motherhood with concentration on more effective and realistic pregnancy prevention.