Family fragmentation costs American taxpayers a mind-boggling $112 billion a year, or more than $1 trillion each decade.
The costs are tied to increased taxpayer expenditure for antipoverty, criminal justice and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.
The $112 billion breaks down thus: $70.1 billion at the federal level; $33.3 billion at the state level; and, $8.5 billion at the local level.
Those and other such eye-popping findings are contained in a study titled, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing — First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and All Fifty States.” The Institute for American Values, Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, Georgia Family Council and Families Northwest sponsored the study. The principal investigator was Dr. Benjamin Scafidi, an economist in the J. Whitney Bunting School of Business at Georgia College & State University.
This writer became aware of it through Dr. Thomas Shipka, retired professor and chairman of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Youngstown State University. Shipka was responding to last Sunday’s column in this space headlined, “Take aim at the root causes of crime.” The thesis of the piece was that the unacceptably high crime rate in the city of Youngstown is directly tied to the crumbling family unit and the large number of single-parent homes. It was also suggested that decision-makers, especially the clergy, must be honest about the crime epidemic that has swept the black community.
The column triggered thoughtful, and some not-so-thoughtful, responses. There were the usual racist comments about blacks, but a goodly number of readers sought to raise the level of discourse about a seemingly intractable problem plaguing Youngstown.
Shipka used the study as the basis of a commentary he aired on WYSU. In it, the professor offered statistics that put the issue in its proper perspective.
“Although the divorce rate in the United States has moderated in recent years, it is still very high,” he said. “Moreover, one of three children born in America today is born outside of wedlock. Twenty-five percent of non-Hispanic white babies are born to single mothers; 46 percent of Hispanic babies are born to single mothers; and 69 percent of African-American babies are born to single mothers. Over the past 40 years, the proportion of children in America living with two married parents dropped by 17 percent, from 85 percent to 68 percent.”
Shipka’s data came from the Institute for American Values study.
Of particular interest to Youngstown is a section labeled, “Does Family Fragmentation Increase Crime?”
Three separate bodies of literature show a correlation between the two.
“ … research that considers entire communities has found a strong association between the percent of single-parent households and crime rates,” the study said. “In one case [researchers] found that increases in the proportion of adolescents born outside of marriage were linked to significant increases in homicide arrest rates for fifteen and nineteen year olds.”
The crime statistics in Youngstown, especially with regard to the homicide rate, confirm the report’s findings.
“A second large body of literature — investigations of individual families using variables, such as parent-child relationships or mothers’ education levels — finds that a child raised outside an intact marriage is more likely to commit crimes as a teen and young adult.”
Finally, there is literature that analyzes future crime rates of juvenile offenders. It shows that stable marriages reduce the likelihood that adult males will commit additional crimes.
Given that the disintegration of the family — divorce, unwed mothers, the absence of responsible adults as role models — is a major factor in Youngstown’s crime epidemic, decision-makers, led by the clergy, must focus on the home.
Young black boys and girls need to be guided away from the road to ruin.
Note: There was a special graduation ceremony on Friday that was all about second chances. The story of the 38 graduates of the Mahoning County High School was published Saturday.