- - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

On the 50th anniversary of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous report on the breakdown of the black family in urban ghettos, Baltimore has descended into the tragic violence and chaos he predicted. In a report titled, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action,” Assistant Secretary of Labor Moynihan, warned that the deterioration of the black family, would result in soaring crime rates if it continued unchecked.

In the most famous passage of the 1965 report, Moynihan, who would later become a Democratic U.S. senator, wrote, “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder are not only to be expected, they are very near to inevitable.”

When he wrote these words, the illegitimacy rate among African-Americans was 25 percent while illegitimacy nationwide, stood at 7.7 percent. In the mid-1960s thanks largely to Great Society welfare policies, the out-of-wedlock birth rate began to climb rapidly. Today the out-of-wedlock rate for blacks is over 72 percent with even higher rates in inner cities. Illegitimacy among Hispanics is now over 50 percent, and for whites it has risen from the 3 percent in 1960 to 36 percent today.

Moynihan’s words were prophetic. As family structure virtually disintegrated, Baltimore’s core has become a center of poverty and violence. Recent unchecked rioting in Baltimore has been followed by a crime spree with 32 people shot and nine killed just over the Memorial Day weekend.

In the month of May, there were nearly 120 shootings and 43 murders. Sadly, Baltimore is just the latest face of urban violence in America. Other urban areas like Detroit, New Orleans, Newark and Chicago suffer from the same pathology.

That pathology is clearly linked to children growing up without fathers. The data is clear that children born to teenage single women are more likely to live in poverty, to fail in school, to become involved in drugs and crime, and to end up in prison. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 60 percent of rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of long-term prison inmates are men who grew up in fatherless homes. Yet this “politically incorrect” evidence is virtually ignored by policymakers.

Most of the hand-wringing articles addressing the problems of Baltimore have focused on the need for better schools, more jobs and even more gun control. Black leaders blame racism and call for more tax money and business investment in the city. But what does this matter if the family is not there to impart healthy values, personal responsibility, a hunger for education, a work ethic and a strong sense of right and wrong?

Until the 1960s, there were strong social sanctions against unwed motherhood. But when Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society, welfare payments, food stamps, government housing and Medicaid enabled unwed teens to have their babies without fear of consequences.

Since a father in the house virtually disqualifies a woman from collecting her government check, the welfare system encourages men to abandon their children. Welfare checks to young women destroy the sense of responsibility for young men, who are transformed from essential breadwinners to useless financial burdens. Fatherless communities are deprived of the traditional authority figures that discourage threatening gangs and control delinquent kids.

The human cost of these policies is found in the hopeless, uneducated, unmotivated young men aimlessly roaming the streets of Baltimore, devoid of a moral compass. Historically, individuals are restrained from anti-social behavior either by fear of punishment or by a strong moral upbringing. When both of these break down, so does society. Moynihan wrote that as long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself.

If future generations are to be saved, community leaders and character-forming institutions — churches, synagogues and charities — must take a strong public stand in support of marriage and restoring the two-parent family.

Ellen Sauerbrey, a two-time Republican nominee for governor of Maryland, was born and raised in Baltimore.

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