If we found a magic lantern and were given one wish, our one wish would be for the restoration of marriage before having children as the norm for our nation. No other issue has created more poverty, heartache, destruction and debt than the rise in birth of out of wedlock children. A man and woman who have a child out of wedlock set their future path on very unsolid ground.
The well-known author and historian Shelby Foote spent a good part of his life studying Civil War participants and their lives before, during, and after the war ended. Paraphrasing from memory only, in a PBS interview Foote was asked what he learned about people and their lives. His response was along these lines, “Every life has a plot. All life stories are divided into thirds, but it is not until we die that we know how to identify the segments. Once that happens, we can see that in each third there are only one or two key events that play a significant role in later life segments.”
Foote’s observations come after decades of observing, studying, and applying logic to what we see every day and instinctively know. And what we know is that the decisions we make today influence the life we lead tomorrow. Nowhere is this principle clearer than in the birth rate among unmarried teenage mothers. This one demographic holds the key to the long-term success or failure of our nation.
Starting with Lyndon Johnson, and continuing through to today, our government has created a system that encourages out of wedlock births, abortions, and greater government dependency with each successive generation. How did this seismic shift in our culture happen, and what must change to reverse the trends? These are the key questions and issues facing us as a society.
Using Shelby Foote’s analogy as a starting point and knowing that the average lifespan in American for women is eighty-one years, we can deduce that this first third is from birth to age 27. Women typically graduate from high school at age 18 and if they attend college or technical school, then their formal education extends to around age 22. By age 27 they are either well on their career path, or they have made the choice to stay at home with their children. But it is the critical time from about age 15 to 22 where things seem to get off track for many young women. Once they get off this track, for many if not most, their path to success never recovers. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s the girls who interrupted this track with an unplanned pregnancy was small within the population.
With the assassination of President Kennedy, President Johnson found himself paired with the most liberal Congress since the Great Depression. The legislation passed was sweeping and it is only now that voters can see the cumulative effect this legislation would have on the nation. Not all the laws passed were bad, but one of the underlying themes has created a greater dependency on government. This single Congressional Session created:
- The Elementary and Secondary Education Act
- The Social Security Amendments of 1965
- The Older Americans Act of 1965
- The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
- The Housing and Urban Development Act
It was not as obvious then as it is now, but these laws and others Congress passed changed the equation of family structure, individual responsibility, and government dependency. In the historical “guns and butter” discussion it was impossible to pay for the Vietnam War and all these new social programs. For sure all the blame does not rest with Johnson, but successive Presidents and Congresses learned from him that you can finance anything and keep the voters happy.
Today a woman (girl) who has an out of wedlock child, and is in a low-income category, has access to at least these government subsidies:
- Financial Aid for Single Mothers
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- The women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)
- Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP)
- Unemployment Insurance
- Additional Child Tax Credit
- Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
- Electronic Benefits Transfers (EBT)
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
- The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
- Free Health Care and Education Programs
- Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- Federal Pell Grant Program
- COVID relief money in several forms
- Housing and Utility Bills Help
- HUD Housing Assistance
- Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
- Additional State Level Programs
Individually these programs are well intended, they are always well intended. It is the cumulative effect of all these programs that has encouraged behavior between men and women (often children) that, prior to the Great Society legislation, would have been unheard of in America. Unwed mothers are now “married” to the Federal and State Governments. Many fathers of children from unwed relationships no longer feel any obligation to marry or take responsibility for the mother and child. Why get married when the free support from the government exceeds what could be earned by the married couple? Why lose all these benefits by getting married?
Without the intergenerational core family values that go with marriage, unwed mothers, single households, and abortion became even more prevalent after 1973. In 1964 single female households with children under the age of eighteen made up only 8.7% of families with children; today that has risen to 23.3%. In 1964 90.3% of families with children under the age of eighteen were two parent households; today that has declined to only 68.8%. (Source: U. S. Census Bureau) In the 2003 Brookings Institute Study cited earlier, 81% of married couples live above the poverty level. While only 40% of those living below the poverty line are two parent families. Marriage matters, and the positive effect of marriage on success is clear.
A similar study done by the Alicia Patterson Foundation in 2011 showed that a child raised by a mother alone is four times more likely to be raised in poverty. Among black families this rises to about two-thirds. Further complicating the situation are childcare, wages for the poorly educated, and poor child support collections even when court mandated. A divorced mother fares little better since she must work, find childcare, and is less likely to complete her education. There is no reason to believe that these statistics are more favorable today.
In this environment men are conditioned to be irresponsible in their actions because children are cared for by the State. If the offer of an abortion is declined, then the man may feel little obligation to either marry or support his offspring, Marriage is a part of the solution, but with generations of State support, irresponsibility, and poor behavior, many have no role models to follow. Logically, single mothers raising boys alone have serious issues when the sons enter puberty.
The solution needed is to set a better path for all, not more government aid, not more welfare, not more abortions. The key to the future is most logically found in the past when marriage and personal responsibility were the norm and not the exception. It is a long road back to stability, but it was a long road to get to here. It must start one parent, one child, one church, and one community at a time. We did not get here overnight, and we will not dig our way out overnight. These are generational issues that start with voters saying “enough.”
If we have only one choice to change our society for the better, this is it. Teaching our girls that their decisions, in the first third of their lives, can determine the future of our country. The government is not the answer: solving the issue of out of wedlock pregnancies prior to marriage and the completion of high school and beyond is. In a society where birth control is free and readily available this can be done. It is apparently this one issue in the first third of a person’s life that decides the quality of the rest.
The sum of our decisions determines our destiny!