ShareThis Page
News Columnists

Ignoring the obvious about poverty

| Monday, Jan. 30, 2012

Launching his re-election campaign theme of economic "fairness," President Obama last month painted a picture of decreasing upward mobility among America's poor.

In contrast to his 2008 campaign message of "hope," the message now is one of deepening hopelessness and ever-lower chances of economic success for those at the very bottom.

"You know, a few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult," Obama said. "By 1990, that chance had fallen to around 40 percent."

Choosing to campaign on income inequality, Obama declared that higher tax rates on "the rich" were the right prescription to correct this widening problem of long-lasting and tenacious poverty.

He didn't mention how the economic future and upward mobility of children is directly and negatively impacted when 40 percent of the children in America are now born out of wedlock and 70 percent of children in the black community are living in single-parent households.

In 1963, in contrast -- back at the time when President Obama correctly said there was more upward mobility among the poor -- only 7 percent of children in America were born out of wedlock.

The correlation between this major social deterioration and poverty is made clear in "Child Health USA 2011," a publication of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "In 2009, 44.3 percent of children living in a female-headed household experienced poverty, as did 26.5 percent of children living in a male-headed household," whereas "11.1 percent of children living in married-couple families lived in poverty" -- one-fourth the poverty rate of female-headed households.

In "The Wrong Inequality," New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that "it is easier to talk about the inequality of stock options than it is to talk about inequalities of family structure, child rearing patterns and educational attainment."

Continues Brooks, "That's because many people are wedded to the notion that our problems are caused by an oppressive privileged class that perpetually keeps its boot stomped on the neck of the common man."

The growth in wealth of the top 1 percent, argues Brooks, is "not nearly as big a problem" as the "disorganized social fabric" at the bottom when it comes to inequality and stagnant social mobility.

"The breakdown of the family lies behind all other urban dysfunction," writes the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald, a contributing editor at City Journal. "No government program can possibly compensate for the absence of fathers in the home and the absence of the cultural expectation that men will be responsible for their children."

In the "Bronx's Mott Haven neighborhood in 2009, 84 percent of births were to unmarried women, according to city health statistics, followed by Brownsville, Brooklyn, at 81.2 percent; Hunts Points, the Bronx, at 80.4 percent; and Morrisania, the Bronx, at 79.1 percent," reports Mac Donald. "Compare those with the rates in largely white neighborhoods, such as Battery Park (6.8 percent), the Upper East Side (7.9 percent) and Murray Hill (8.6 percent)."

Those inequalities in social behavior directly produce inequalities in income and wealth, and inequalities in crime rates -- inequalities that will not be effectively addressed by doubling the tax rate on capital gains.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me