Again, welfare may have played a part in making single motherhood more attractive than marriage for women with the least skills and education, but only because low-skilled men were having such a hard time and received so little help from government. The third factor in the growth of single motherhood was a shift in social norms and values during the s that reduced the stigma associated with divorce and nonmarital childbearing.
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In the s, if a young unmarried woman found herself pregnant, the father was expected to step forward and the couple was expected to marry. By the late s, the revolution in sexual mores permitted young men and women to have intimate relationships and live together outside the bonds of legal marriage. Attitudes toward individual freedom also changed during the s. The new individualism encouraged people to put personal fulfillment above family responsibility, to expect more from their intimate relationships and marriages, and to leave "bad" marriages if their expectations were not fulfilled.
In the early s, over half of all women surveyed agreed that "when there are children in the family, parents should stay together even if they don't get along. Once sex and childrearing were "liberated" from marriage and women could support themselves, two of the most important incentives for marriage were gone. When the economic gains from marriage declined in the s, it's not surprising that declines in marriage rates soon followed.
Today, changes in social norms continue to influence the formation of families by making new generations of young adults less trustful of the institution of marriage. Many of the young people who are now having trouble finding and keeping a mate were born during the s when divorce rates were rising.
Single Parent Essay
Many grew up in single-parent families or stepfamilies. Given their own family history, these young people may find it easier to leave a bad relationship and to raise child alone than to make and keep a long-term commitment. Compared to the conservative argument that welfare causes single parenthood, these changes provide a more comprehensive and compelling explanation.
They explain why single motherhood is more common in the United States than in other industrialized countries: American women are more economically independent than women in most other countires. For this reason alone, single-mother families should be more numerous in the U. In addition, low-skilled men in the U. American workers were the first to experience the economic dislocations brought about by deindustrialization and economic restructuring. Throughout the s, unemployment rates were higher in the U. During the s, unemployment spread to other countries but with less dire consequences for men since unemployment benefits are more generous and coverage is more extensive.
Just as single motherhood has no single cause and no certain outcome, there is no simple solution or "quick fix" for the problems facing single mothers and their children. Strategies for helping these families, therefore, must include those aimed at preventing family breakup and sustaining family resources as well as those aimed at compensating children for the loss of parental time and income.
Preventing Family Breakup and Economic Insecurity. Parents contemplating divorce need to be informed about the risks to their children if their marriage breaks up. However, it is not clear we can prevent family breakups by making the divorce laws more restrictive, as William Galston, now deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, advocates. Indeed, more restrictive divorce laws might have the opposite effect. Increasing numbers of young adults are living together and delaying marriage. Making divorce more difficult will only make marriage less attractive, relative to cohabitation.
A better way to encourage marriage is to make sure that parents -- especially poor parents -- are not penalized when they do get married. Our current system of income transfers and taxation does just that. Health care and child care are two areas in which poor two-parent families receive less government help than well-off two-parent families and impoverished single-parent families. Most middle- and upper-income families receive tax-subsidized health insurance through their employers, and all single-mother families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children AFDC are eligible for Medicaid.
The most likely to be uninsured are the working poor. If some variant of President Clinton's proposal for universal coverage is adopted by Congress, this problem will be eliminated. Similarly, middle-income and upper-income families can deduct child care expenses from their income taxes, while single mothers on welfare are eligible for government subsidized child care.
Poor and near poor two-parent families receive virtually nothing in the way of government-subsidized help with child care because they pay no taxes. As part of its welfare reform proposal, the Clinton administration plans to substantially increase child care subsidies to families with incomes less than percent of the poverty line. If passed, this change would greatly improve the current system and help equalize child care benefits for poor one- and two-parent families. As a result of Clinton's first budget, we now have a very good program, the Earned Income Tax Credit EITC , for subsidizing the earnings of low-wage workers with children.
Unfortunately, however, the EITC is an earnings subsidy rather than an employment program.
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Thus, while it can increase the wages of a poor working parent, it cannot help an unemployed parent find a job. While the Clinton welfare reform proposal seeks to provide jobs or workfare for single mothers on welfare, it offers little support for employment and training for nonresident fathers and none for parents in two-parent families. By making welfare a precondition for obtaining a public job or job training , even the reformed welfare system would maintain a bias against two- parent families. The only way to get around this problem is to guarantee a minimum wage job to all parents who are willing to work, regardless of whether they live with their children.
Until recently, we have relied on judicial discretion and parental goodwill to enforce child support obligations. For children the consequences have been devastating. Through the law and other means, we must send an unequivocal message to nonresident fathers or mothers that they are expected to share their income with their children, regardless of whether they live with them. This means making sure that all children have a child support award including children born outside marriage ; that awards are adequate and indexed to changes in the nonresident parents' income; and that obligations are paid promptly.
The Family Support Act of was a giant step toward redressing the failures of our child support system. It required states to increase efforts to establish paternity at birth, to develop standards for setting and updating awards, and to create mechanisms for withholding child support obligations from nonresident parents' earnings.
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Yet many states have been slow to carry out the Family Support Act. The Clinton administration has made child support enforcement a centerpiece of welfare reform. Besides streamlining procedures for identifying fathers and automatically withholding payments from wages, it requires states to enforce child support obligations for all single mothers as opposed to welfare mothers only.
This is an excellent move because it helps to prevent poverty in the first place. Enforcing child support will not only increase the income of single mothers but also sends a strong message to men that if they father a child they become responsible for supporting that child for at least 18 years. This should make men more careful about engaging in unprotected sex and fathers more reluctant to divorce. My position is diametrically opposed to that of conservatives like Murray who argue that unwed mothers should get no support from the fathers of their children.
Instead of getting tough on mothers, we should demand more of fathers. We have already tried tough love on the mothers: we cut welfare benefits by 26 percent between and , and it didn't work. Requiring men to bear as much responsibility as women for an "unwanted" pregnancy is not such a radical idea. In fact, it resembles the system that used to prevail in this country before the s, when young men did share the "cost" of an unintended pregnancy: they were expected to marry.
The phrase "shotgun marriage" calls to mind a legendary threat the young woman's family might make. A stricter child support system has its risks.
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Some people argue that nonresident fathers often are abusive and that forcing these men to pay child support may endanger mothers and children. But most men do not fall into this category. A majority of children should not be deprived of child support because a minority of fathers threaten abuse. Rather, strong steps should be taken to protect single mothers and children from abusive fathers. Other people object to enforcing child support for fear of overburdening poor fathers.
While this problem has long been exaggerated -- many fathers can afford to provide much more child support than they now pay -- it is true that some fathers do not pay because they are unemployed or their wages are so low they can barely cover their own expenses. To help them support their children, nonresident parents -- like resident parents -- should be guaranteed a minimum-wage job.
A Single Parent
Those who find a private sector job or a public non-guaranteed job should be eligible for the earned income tax credit, even if they are not living with their child. Making nonresident fathers eligible for the EITC would require restructuring the program. Under the current rules, the benefits go to the household with the dependent child. Under a reformed system, the benefits would go to individuals, and both parents in a two-parent family would be eligible for a subsidy if their earnings were very low. This approach avoids penalizing poor parents who live together.
The Clinton welfare reform proposal is a first step in the right direction. It acknowledges that government must not only ask more of nonresident fathers but help those who are trying to "play by the rules. Besides holding nonresident parents responsible for child support, resident parents should be responsible for raising their children and contributing to their economic support.
Most single mothers are doing this already. Over 70 percent work at least part of the year, and over 25 percent work full-time, year round. These numbers are virtually identical to those for married mothers.
Although most single mothers work outside the home, a substantial minority depend entirely on welfare for their economic support. And a small percentage remain on welfare for as long as 18 or 20 years. The Clinton welfare reform proposal requires mothers on welfare to seek employment after their child is one year old and sooner in some cases , and it offers them extensive services to find and keep a job.
I agree with the general thrust of these proposals, at least in principle. Most married mothers prefer to work outside the home, and single mothers on welfare are likely to have the same aspirations. Over the long run, employment should increase a moth- er's earning power and self-esteem and make her less dependent on government.
source url My major concern about the new proposals is that they reduce the amount of time mothers spend with their children. The loss of parental time could mean less parental involvement and supervision.