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Racial divide

Though income is the primary predictor, the lack of live-in fathers also is overwhelmingly a black problem, regardless of poverty status, census data show. Among blacks, nearly 5 million children, or 54 percent, live with only their mother. Twelve percent of black families below the poverty line have two parents present, compared with 41 percent of impoverished Hispanic families and 32 percent of poor white families.

The schism is most apparent in the District, which has a higher portion of two-parent families among whites, at 85 percent, and a lower share among blacks, at 25 percent, than any state.

In all but 11 states, most black children do not live with both parents. In every state, 7 in 10 white children do. In all states but Rhode Island and Massachusetts, most Hispanic children do. In Wisconsin, 77 percent of white children and 61 percent of Hispanics live with both parents, compared with more than 25 percent of black children.

“Something has to be done about it, and it starts with the culture and reversing the attitude that marriage is not important. The president has a role to play in that. He’s a married African-American father who can probably make a huge difference with words alone,” Mr. DiCaro said.

But the move toward single-parent homes has included every race, and from Curtis Bay in Baltimore to Millcreek outside Salt Lake City to Vancouver, Wash., just north of Portland, there are 1,500 neighborhoods with substantial white populations where most white households lack fathers. Maine, Vermont and West Virginia have the lowest dual-parenthood rates for whites. 

Southern cross

The decline has hit disproportionately in the South, which considers itself a bastion of traditional family values.

Even in places where the percentage of the black population declined, single parenthood increased over the past decade, The Washington Times’ analysis of census data shows. In South Carolina, where the black share of the population fell by 2 percent, single parenthood rose by 5 percent. In Kentucky and Louisiana, where the black population was constant, single parenthood increased 6 percentage points.

“In places you’d think values are at least talked about, they are not lived out necessarily. Education and income seem to trump them. The people who might not be preaching family values, like coastal upper-class communities, those are the people who are waiting to get married,” Mr. DiCaro said.

The largest geographic area of sustained fatherlessness contains the rural, largely black poor across Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, tributaries of broken homes running 400 miles along the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tenn., where in some neighborhoods 82 percent of children live with their mothers alone, to Baton Rouge, La., in parts of which less than one-fifth of children have both parents at home.

Black families differ from other racial groups in that the average black single mother has more children, not fewer, than her counterpart with a father present. Hispanic single mothers were most often dealing with the most mouths to feed but still had fewer children than their married counterparts. 

To have and to hold

Mr. DiCaro points to a desire among the poor to produce something.

“When you have very little going for you in your life, having children can give purpose to it. If you’re married, you’re going to be much more cautious. There’s health care costs and our jobs, whereas if we were both just kind of doing whatever, then why not just have another kid?”

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