August 10, 2015

THE FLAWED ‘MISSING MEN’ THEORY: Kay Hymowitz has an oped in the Wall Street Journal today debunking the “missing men” theory of black family disintegration:

What extensive data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Vital Statistics Reports show is that the black family was in deep disarray well before America’s prison-population increase. As the 1960s began, 20% of all black births were to single mothers. By 1965 black “illegitimacy”—in the parlance of the time—had reached 24% and become the subject of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s prophetic but ill-fated report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”

Yet the figure that so worried future Sen. Moynihan turned out to be the ground floor of a steep 30-year climb. By 1980 more than half of black children were born to unmarried mothers. The number peaked at 72.5% in 2010 and is now just below 72%. . . .

As the family unraveled, crime increased—the homicide rate doubled between the early 1960s and late ’70s, with more than half of the convicted being black—leading to calls for tougher sentencing to place more bad guys behind bars. In other words, family breakdown was followed by increased crime and more-crowded prisons. . . .

None of this means that incarceration policies aren’t ready for an overhaul. The country needs a vigorous examination of mandatory-sentencing laws, the war on drugs, and racial disparities in arrests and sentencing. But that debate shouldn’t be used to evade the realities of family life in neighborhoods like Ferguson and Baltimore’s Sandtown. Evasion has been the preferred modus vivendi over the past 50 years, ever since Moynihan’s warning of rising fatherlessness drew sharp condemnation. Look where it has gotten us.

There is much reform needed on sentencing and drug laws, to be sure. But Hymowitz is right that the breakdown of the black family predated the war on drugs and its concomitant higher rates of black incarceration. “Missing men” exacerbate, but do not solely cause, the breakdown of the black family.

Even assuming sentencing or drug law reforms could keep some black men from going “missing,” how do you convince black men to marry the women whom they impregnate (or conversely. convince the women to marry their children’s father), or alternatively, increase the use of contraception to prevent the pregnancies in the first place? How can you instill “family values” in a culture that seems to now have an unusually female/mother/grandmother-centric vision of what constitutes a “family”? It would be great to see a #BlackFamiliesMatter movement.

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