- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2003

Just in time for Father’s Day, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count data book last week, which provides historical national and state-by-state assessments of child well-being. Unfortunately, the report significantly underestimated the role played by marriage and intact two-parent families in alleviating or eliminating many of the problems faced by children in recent decades. Indeed, the authors seemed oblivious to the remarkably favorable impacts, both economic and social, that at-home, married fathers have on the well-being of their children.

Citing “economic growth and significant expansion of public programs,” the 2003 edition of Kids Count revealed that eight of the foundation’s 10 indicators of child well-being showed improvement between 1990 and 2000. Over the decade, the study reported decreases ranging from 20 to 30 percent in the infant mortality rate; the child death rate; the rate of teen deaths by accident, homicide and suicide; the teen birthrate; teens not attending school and not working; and children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. Teen high-school dropouts declined by 10 percent, and children in poverty fell by 15 percent. While low-birthweight babies increased by 9 percent during the decade, much of the increase was attributed to the 30 percent increase in multiple births, 57 percent of which are low-birthweight.

The one Kids Count indicator of child well-being that showed significant deterioration during the 1990s was the percentage of families with children headed by a single parent, 90 percent of which are headed by females. The share of single-parent families, which comprised 9 percent of all families with children in 1960, increased from 24 percent in 1990 to 28 percent in 2000. Thus, during the last decade, that crucial indicator increased by a robust 17 percent.

Regrettably, the Kids Count study did not seem to have a clue about the gravity of the worsening crisis reflected by the inexorable increase in single-parent families. In addition, there was little appreciation for the beneficial impact of marriage and at-home fathers.

While the report acknowledges that the “nationwide improvement on eight of 10 indicators of child well-being correspond[ed] with a period that saw a higher participation of parents in the workforce,” it cautioned that “many of these working parents face unrecognized obstacles that jeopardize the financial progress of their families and the continued improvement of outcomes for their kids.” In the study’s introductory essay, “The High Cost of Being Poor,” Kids Count argues that each year its report “confirms the fundamental link between poverty and a range of negative outcomes — illness, academic failure, early pregnancy — outcomes that can powerfully diminish a child’s chances of adult achievement and success.” Glaringly absent from the essay’s four-part platform to level the playing field for low-income families was any favorable recommendation encouraging marriage.

This comes despite an abundance of evidence clearly demonstrating the anti-poverty role that marriage plays in society. In fact, Kids Count acknowledged that “[a]bout two-fifths (39 percent) of children in female-headed families were poor in 2001, compared to 8 percent of children in married-couple families.” In addition to alleviating poverty, married-couple families, according to a study cited by Kids Count, significantly reduce the risk that children will experience “low measures of academic achievement (repeated grades, low marks, low class standing); increased likelihood of dropping out of high school; early childbearing; and increased levels of depression, stress, anxiety and aggression.” But Kids Count refuses to make the causal connection that exists today between non-marital births and poverty.

Out-of-wedlock births — which comprised 5.3 percent of total births in 1960, including 2.3 percent of white births and 23 percent of black births — now exceed one-third of all births (33.5 percent), including 27 percent of white births, 68 percent of black births and 43 percent of Hispanic births.

Kids Count seemed dismissive of this calamity, favorably observing that the overall out-of-wedlock percentage “has increased by less than 1 percentage point [from 32.6 percent to 33.5 percent] since 1994.” In fact, as the above-noted out-of-wedlock figures demonstrate (particularly for Hispanics and blacks), the crisis hit a peak in 1994 and remains there.

Worse, citing the ongoing Princeton Fragile Families longitudinal study, Kids Count asserts that “many of the poor children of single parents would remain in or near poverty even if their parents were to marry.” However, according to an extensive analysis of Fragile Families data by Heritage Foundation researchers Robert Rector, Kirk Johnson, Patrick Fagan and Lauren Noyes, “increasing marriage would dramatically reduce child poverty.” Confining their analysis to non-married mothers who are romantically involved with the fathers at the time of the child’s birth, the Heritage researchers concluded, “Specifically, if these mothers do not marry but remain single, about 55 percent will be poor. By contrast, if all the mothers married the child’s father, the poverty rate would fall to less than 17 percent.” For cases where the mother was employed full-time, nearly two-thirds of the married couples would have incomes above 150 percent of the poverty level, compared to only 20 percent of full-time working single mothers.

Intact marriages and at-home fathers play crucial, often indispensable roles in maximizing the well-being of children. Having intensively studied the data for nearly 15 years now, surely Kids Count must know that fathers count, too.

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