- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

President Bush and other Republicans seeking, after Hurricane Katrina, an answer to the poverty manifested in some of the most storm-ravaged areas should recall the values of family and limited government they touted when elected.

According to Census Bureau data, the relative levels of poverty in America are best predicted not by race, but by family makeup. Want to find a relatively poor person in this country? Look for a broken family. Want to find a child growing up in financial adversity? Look for a family where one parent has been left to raise a child without help from the other. You especially find poor children where the father is not around.

Where racism persists in American life, it should be resisted and condemned. But even if we completely eradicate racism from our society, poverty will persist where families remain broken.

In 2004, the Census Bureau found only 6.4 percent of Americans in married-couple families lived below the poverty level, which the bureau defined as ranging from $12,334 for a family of two to $39,048 for a family of nine or more.

There was some difference between the percentages for blacks and whites, but it was not large: 9.9 percent of blacks in married-couple families lived below the poverty level, while 6 percent of whites did.

On the other hand, 13.8 percent of all Americans who lived in households headed by a man without a wife present lived in poverty, while 30.5 percent of those in households headed by a woman without a husband present lived in poverty.

Broken families were financially bad for adults but were worse for children and worst of all for young children. Of Americans under 18, only 9 percent of those living in married-couple families were below the poverty level last year. But 19.2 percent of those in a household headed by a male with no wife present lived in poverty, and 41.8 percent of those in a female-headed household with no husband present lived in poverty.

If you were an American child 5 years old or younger and your father was not around, it was likelier than not that you lived below the Census Bureau’s poverty level: Last year, 53.8 percent of all under-5-year-olds who lived in a household headed by a woman whose husband was not present lived below that financial threshold.

The trend was basically the same among blacks and whites. Among whites, 52 percent of children under 5 living in fatherless households lived below the poverty level. Among blacks, it was 58.1 percent.

Clearly, if you want to defeat poverty in America, you should start by defeating any bias in our society against the traditional family. This should be a cause that unites rather divides Americans, but not in favor of a bigger government.

The original civil rights movement was not sparked by politicians in Washington, D.C. It was a grass-roots movement, inspired by traditional religious values, first and foremost aimed at reversing laws and government acts that discriminated against people on the basis of race.

The successful movement to defend traditional family life — and, thus, attack poverty at its source — will be similar and, of course, has already been launched by many groups and organizations across the country.

This movement, too, is grass-roots, inspired by traditional religious values and, where engaged politically rather than culturally, aims not at creating more government, but in reversing laws and policies — whether they bear on local schools, federal court decisions, welfare programs or the tax code — that discriminate against the family.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor of Human Events and a nationally syndicated columnist.


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