- - Thursday, May 24, 2012

Desmond Hatchett, of Knoxville, Tenn., has petitioned the state of Tennessee for relief of his child-support obligations. It seems that the 33-year-old minimum-wage earner has to divide 50 percent of his earnings with the 11 women with whom he has fathered 30 children. While some of his children receive as little as $1.49 per month, according to media reports, the sheer number of offspring add up to an oppressive burden.

You will never hear about the able-bodied Hatchett and his many progeny when liberals and progressives wail about the increasing poverty and disparity of incomes in the United States. Blaming abstract entities like “society” and “the economy,” the left trots out out-of-context statistics such as the fact that “1 in 4 American children is born in poverty,” and warns that children so born are more likely to drop out of high school, have out-of-wedlock children, wind up in jail, have trouble finding work, etc. etc.

Invariably, such observations are followed by calls for more government resources child care, early-childhood education, home-visiting programs and the like - to help “vulnerable” families, as if, like the Joads of Oklahoma fleeing the Dust Bowl, they are victims of devastating impersonal forces.

Assuredly, outside forces do contribute to economic hardship. But so do people’s individual choices. Apologists for the supersized welfare state never seem interested in the individual circumstances. That would be “blaming the victim.” Nor does it occur to them that the current panoply of social safety nets might be an incentive for the dysfunctional behaviors that engender poverty in the first place.

Remarkably for a nation hurtling toward a fiscal apocalypse, the whole subject of “welfare reform” seems to be off the table. America addressed the issue when President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich struck an agreement to alter the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, and even conservatives rarely talk about it anymore. The debate today focuses mainly on middle-class entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.

Yet consider the magnitude of wealth transfers to the poor. A Heritage Foundation tally estimated state and federal outlays for means-tested programs including Medicaid and children’s health insurance, food and nutrition services, Social Security disability, rental assistance and public housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and miscellaneous benefits ranging from emergency energy assistance to free cell phones exceeded $700 billion in 2008, a sum that is higher today. And that doesn’t include the money that the poor actually earn or what they collect in unemployment benefits.

The fact is, living in poverty in 21st-century America is hardly unbearable. Otherwise, it would be impossible to explain why millions of young women make the decision every year to bear children out of wedlock and depend on support from the federal government. Thanks to government largesse, giving birth to illegitimate children is a viable lifestyle option. When Uncle Sam is the provider, young women enter into sexual relationships without asking themselves what kind of fathers paramours like Desmond Hatchett would be.

Many Americans succeed at escaping poverty, a testament to their grit and a credit to America’s social mobility. But the fertility of poor women, the disintegration of the institution of marriage and the profligacy of lower-income males ensures that millions of children never will be raised in stable households where they can learn the attitudes and skills it takes to rise above their circumstances. It’s tough enough raising children in intact, affluent families. It’s doubly hard for poor, single mothers. And it’s triply difficult when the father takes only a passing interest in his offspring.

In comments to the press, Hatchett observed that he did, at least, know the names of all his children. But it’s a safe bet that he has neither the time nor inclination to become a meaningful presence in the lives of all 30.

No one wants to raise another generation of children in poverty. It is time to demand less of “society” (liberal code word for “taxpayers”) and demand more of the Hatchetts. We need to stigmatize men who so contemptuously abandon the obligations of fatherhood. And, yes, we need to stigmatize women who exercise zero discretion in their choice of mates and then turn to “society” to bail them out.

James A. Bacon is the author of “Boomergeddon” and publisher of the Bacon’s Rebellion blog (baconsrebellion.com).