- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2001

More than 2 million fathers dont pay child support because they are as poor, uneducated and underemployed as the mothers of their children, says a recent Urban Institute study of poor families.
"If we expect poor, nonresident fathers to pay child support, we should consider making employment-related services more available to them," said Urban Institute researcher Elaine Sorensen.
The government "devotes considerably more resources to helping poor mothers succeed in the labor market than it does to helping poor fathers do so," she said in her paper titled "Poor Dads Who Dont Pay Child Support: Deadbeats or Disadvantaged?"
Ms. Sorensen and co-author Chava Zibman conducted their study with data from the 1997 National Survey of Americas Families, which collected economic, health and social information from 44,000 households.
The data showed that nearly 11 million fathers werent living with their children.
About 4 million of these fathers paid formal or court-ordered child support, while the other 7 million did not, said the study.
Some nonpaying fathers werent legally bound to pay child support because they had not taken paternity tests or been taken to court, said Ms. Sorensen.
Also, a sizable portion of nonpaying fathers probably gave informal financial or material support to their families, she said.
Those caveats aside, the researchers sought to answer why at least half of fathers werent supporting their families, formally or informally.
The data indicated that 4.5 million fathers had "no apparent financial reason" not to support their families.
The other 2.5 million fathers appeared to be as poor, undereducated and lost in the job market as the mothers of their children, said Ms. Sorensen.
She found that roughly half of fathers and mothers dropped out of high school, that fathers worked 29 weeks per year compared with 33 weeks a year for mothers, and that average personal earnings were almost the same — $5,627 a year for fathers and $5,276 a year for mothers.
The study found that, unlike the mothers, 29 percent of poor, nonpaying fathers spent time out of the labor force because they were in prison or some other institution.
"Obviously, poverty is not an excuse for shirking parental responsibility," said Ms. Sorensen.
But except for the food-stamp program, government antipoverty programs have favored mothers, she said, and that welfare programs account for more than 30 percent of poor mothers household budgets, but only 17 percent of poor fathers budgets.
After welfare reform was passed in 1996, states began using welfare funds to help poor fathers find jobs, and the $3 billion Welfare to Work program in 1997 was the first to "explicitly" offer employment services to poor fathers, said Ms. Sorensen.
Both parents need to double their incomes, she said.
"To rectify the current imbalance" in social programs, she added, "we need to view these [fathers] as parents, and provide them with the same kinds of services as resident parents, as long as theyre making good faith efforts to contribute to their kids."
Geraldine Jensen, leader of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support Inc., a child-support advocacy group, said that giving fathers more employment and social services was a fine idea, as long as the programs were efficient and tied to paying child support.
"We need programs that are effective, not just a 'we feel good about fatherhood program," said Ms. Jensen. "The moms are already out there working two jobs," she said. "If Mom can work two jobs, Dad can work two jobs."


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