Bringing Up Baby
By Robert Doar
When Harvard social scientist and celebrated author Robert Putnam lists the challenges facing poor Americans, family structure is always at the top – above jobs, schools, rising inequality or the weakening of civil society. And his new book, "Our Kids," (*) has received great attention and praise for documenting the growing outcome gaps between kids who grow up with two educated parents and those who do not.
But sadly, at a recent summit on poverty, after he listed family structure first, Putnam said, "But what can you do?" He then quickly moved on to the other challenges, which can be addressed with the classic government interventions of programs and more spending. In this way, Putnam reflects the general attitude of people on the left, including the president of the United States, who now pointedly acknowledge that family structure matters a lot in determining the prospects for children, and that kids on average do better when they have the benefit of growing up with two married parents – but then say we can't do anything about that , so let's talk about more government programs to make up for the parenting gap.
Well, take a look at this chart.
Since 1997, the annual teen pregnancy rate in New York City has dropped from more than 130 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 to less than 60 per 1,000. The real number of teen pregnancies has dropped from more than 30,000 to less than 15,000. I chose New York City because that is where I used to work as the commissioner of social services and because it is a liberal city with a diverse population. But the trend is the same nationally. The teen pregnancy rate has plummeted since the early 1990s, with the actual number dropping by more than 200,000.
There has also been some modest good news in New York City in the percentage of children born to non-married mothers – another indicator of potential problems for children. After hitting more than 46 percent in 1998, the rate had dropped to less than 42 percent in 2013, and nationally the non-marital birth rate seems to have stopped its steady upward climb and has remained flat at about 41 percent since 2008.
- A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.
- It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success.
- This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort.
- But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life.
- Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.