Clarence Page: Family breakdown goes biracial

BY CLARENCE PAGE Published: February 8, 2013
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A variety of sociologists and economists from the ideological left, right and nonpartisan middle have found downward mobility to be a shared experience across racial lines for many working-class and middle-class Americans, especially since the Great Recession.

As a headline on an article by Isabel Sawhill, a family life expert at the Brookings Institution, in the latest Washington Monthly put it: “Family Breakdown Is Now Biracial.”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan's controversial 1965 report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” she writes, “looks remarkably similar to a profile of the average white family today,” with the sharpest declines in marriage rates occurring among the least educated of both races.

Marriage, in a sense, has become a new symbol of status, especially for the college educated. “The group for whom marriage has largely disappeared now includes not just unskilled blacks but unskilled whites as well,” she writes. Indeed, for younger women without a college degree, unwed childbearing is the new normal.

Sawhill does not cheer this development, which she and other experts following in Moynihan's path have found to be a pattern throughout the developed world.

If the rise in out-of-wedlock births was tied that closely to crime and violence, I think we would see a more consistent pattern connecting them. Instead, we see crime going sharply up and down in various cities and across the country, while the rise in unwed child rearing steadily climbs.

A development this huge calls for more than simple one-size-fits-all analysis. I'm not saying government programs provide all the answers, but we're only beginning to ask the right questions.

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