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Missing dads is a problem 
not only in poor 
homes

Many wealthy parents 
are married to careers

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The inner cities, where only 1 in 10 black children live with both parents, and the wealthy suburbs, where many fathers spend more than 60 hours a week on the job, have more in common than meets the eye, family advocates and faith leaders said.

They made the comments Thursday after The Washington Times published an analysis this week of U.S. census data that provoked concern for children from widely disparate camps.

Welfare policies among the poor have put government in the role of the father and equated fatherhood with a monthly check, said Glenn T. Stanton, director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. This has left many fathers free to walk away from their children knowing they will not starve thanks to programs that provide cash assistance to single mothers in proportion with the number of children they have, he said.

For fathers who are physically present, it sends a message that a few hundred dollars is a sufficient role.

"I think it would be difficult to overstate the significance of a welfare check replacing a marriage," though a committed relationship between a man and a woman — even if the man provides only the same modest income that welfare payments would — "rivals maybe a college education as a path" to upward mobility, Mr. Stanton said.

But if single mothers on welfare are married to the government, others said, the frantic and competitive lives of many men in the upper-middle class have wedded them to their jobs and relegated fatherhood to a role more centered on financial support than emotional guidance.

"I don't strictly believe it's an inner-city deal," said Hugh Cunningham, pastor of the Sojourn Church in the Dallas suburbs. "A lot of suburban men are married to their work. What they bring home is leftovers."

Although those wounds may be hidden under better clothing, the lack of two emotionally available parents crosses cultural and demographic lines.

"I don't think there's anyone who hasn't been shaped either by a father's affirmations or the wound of their absence," Mr. Cunningham said. "There isn't a whole lot of a difference between so-called Christian families and secular families when it comes to unsuccessful families or families that malfunction."

No matter how much money is poured into entitlement programs — or how much a father makes — "you spell love T-I-M-E," which is something the government cannot provide, said Joel Garcia of Latino Townhall, a Las Vegas-based charity whose mission is to provide education, mentoring and coaching to Hispanic youths.

"A dad is much more than an on-time, reliable paycheck. He's a human who contributes in very unique ways, and it's also the relationship between the father and the mother," Mr. Stanton said.

Moynihan revisited

The Times' in-depth analysis of millions of data points, which attracted thousands of comments online and requests for data and maps from community nonprofits, found that the rates of two-parent households have decreased markedly in every state over the past decade, especially in the South, a traditional bastion of purported family values.

It found that 32 percent of white families with children below the poverty line have two parents, while the rate was 41 percent for Hispanics and 12 percent for poor blacks.

But the problem is concentrated among blacks regardless of economic status. Most black children above the poverty line also live with only one parent, compared with 22 percent of whites.

That reality has academics revisiting a nearly 50-year-old report that explored the impact of government assistance and family situations on the black community. The 1965 report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan — at the time an assistant secretary in the Labor Department, who would later become a Democratic senator from New York — examined why rates of government dependence increased among blacks even as employment opportunities widened and brought a backlash from members of his own party.

In the ensuing decades, policies focused on propping up single mothers economically rather than addressing fatherlessness, with programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children food program all geared toward single women, especially those with multiple children.

"We said, 'How do we build the resources for single mothers to be able to compensate for absent fathers, instead of equipping families to remain intact?'" said Kenneth Braswell Sr., director of Fathers Inc. in Albany, N.Y. "We ignored the core of the Moynihan report, which was pay attention to the black father, because that guy is the one that's going to determine the outcome."

Fifty years and few answers

An analysis looking back on the report found that many factors tied to the presence of male role models among poor blacks have only worsened.

The Urban Institute and Mr. Braswell's group, in preparation for a Feb. 22 event, found that the percent of black women who are married declined from 53 percent to 25 percent over the past half-century, compared with a drop from 65 percent to 52 percent for white women and a 67 percent to 43 percent drop for Hispanics.

"Now you have an increased number of black researchers who are saying 'Whoa, this guy was on point. I may not like the way he went about it, but in terms of his numbers, they can't be disputed,'" Mr. Braswell said.

Black men were 5 percent more likely to be working than black women in 2011, the groups said, and black women were more likely to hold jobs than white women for most of the past decade. Last year, that number was about equal.

"What we did in 1965 is misdiagnose the issue. It's like catching a cold and saying the issue is you have a runny nose," he said. "That's just a symptom. We went right at healing the runny nose, and the bacteria were popping up all over: guys having children by multiple women, not feeling obligated to stick around."

The Moynihan report did not provide a prescription.

"He said, 'Here's the data, it's now your job to figure out where to go with this,'" Mr. Braswell said.

Even with nearly 50 years to reflect on the findings, solutions are not clear-cut.

"We're also not going to provide any recommendations" this month, he said.

To Mr. Cunningham, the pastor, a clue is provided by a half-century of money-intensive government payments that accompanied only the further decline of families.

"The government doesn't have the power to fill" the role of parental guidance and love, he said. "We'll throw money at it, but it's not a money problem," he said. Tight budgetary times could provide an impetus.

"I think there's phenomenal hope because I don't have an expectation that the government can do it; they're running out of money themselves. The feds are going to drop it down to the state and they'll drop it down to the local level, and then the communities will have to rise up."

Churches, community groups and neighborhood volunteers with youngsters' ears will do the grunt work, he said, engaging in non-monetary substitutes for parenting such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

The incentive to act is there, Mr. Braswell said.

"If it was a travesty in 1965, what is it now?"

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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