A disturbing report from the Michigan League for Human Services revealed a record number of young, unmarried women with babies are starting out on the wrong foot. Not only are female-headed family units more likely to be poor, they are less likely to escape from poverty. There couldn’t be a more depressing omen for Detroit.
The just released Right Start in Michigan report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group found a 20-percent increase among single mothers between 2000 and 2009, and two-thirds of births to women between 20 and 24 were to single mothers. About 40-percent of all births in Michigan in 2009 were to an unmarried mom.
If 40 percent is considered a statewide problem, just imagine the consequences from the nearly 80-percent of Detroit children born with no daddy’s name on the birth certificate.
It is a centuries-old tradition for young women to start families. The dream of marriage remains significant even for underprivileged girls and young women. What is different today from the past is that a smaller number of young mothers realize this dream. They never marry.
Moms and dads going their separate ways explains why the greatest poverty is found among single mothers who are likely to be on the brink of subsistence without much ability to provide for their family.
Conversely the majority of young Detroit men know nothing about how to be a responsible father. Victims of their parents’ behavior, children brought up without dads experience much slower learning and reasoning skills; are far more likely to be school dropouts and far less likely to find good jobs.
Handicapped from the cradle, boys that never connect to their biological fathers struggle every day to understand what it means to be a man. They will be indoctrinated with seriously flawed codes of manhood and be prone to reckless sexual conduct for which they are not emotionally ready. The difficulties they face will last a lifetime, which means they are less successful as adults when it comes to love, intimacy or a stable marriage.
Some will copy the criminal ways of their fathers. While imprisoned, they probably leave behind a girlfriend who had their child that will also spend many years of his or her early life without a primary father figure. These children become both a cause and a consequence of a city in distress.
The institution of marriage was designed to be a package deal to bind men to their children. It gave parents the opportunity to be mutually accountable – to each other and the children they brought into the world. For decades it gave families order and stability and was the glue that held communities together.
The qualities that a dad displays in his rapport with the mother set the stage for a harmonious and enriching family life for the son or daughter. It makes sense then that growing up in a two-parent family is an important source of advantage and a requisite gift for children.
Though far from perfect as a social institution, traditional married-couple families where the wife and husband work and education levels are high, typically have higher incomes. Single mothers who get married may see as much as an 80 percent increase in their household income within the first year. Why so few are drawn into marriage by the overwhelming rewards both for themselves and their children is a mystery.
Never before in our history have so many children suffered from so much family dysfunction resulting from events other than death. Given its dramatic impact on the lives of children, one would think this historic level of family disintegration would be viewed with alarm.
Alas, the Right Start in Michigan report was released and filed away without an eyebrow raised by Detroit leaders. Perhaps not enough people in the city still care about the deteriorating state of the family, or the future civility and prosperity of the city.