Friday, January 4, 2008

The real social problem and crisis facing Minnesota and America? The breakdown of marriage.

Legislators and policy makers spend their time attempting to solve society's problems. Particularly on the state level, the focus is on addressing social problems involving health care, welfare, education, crime and so forth. All of these in my view are symptomatic to a degree of a deeper social problem which receives little to no attention. In fact, addressing this underlying problem will significantly help address these other problems. What is this problem? It's the breakdown of the marriage and family as shown by the record number of children born out of wedlock.

An excellent article discussing this problem is Maggie Gallagher's "Unmarried births: Does any one really care?"
Between 2005 and 2006 (just one year!) the proportion of out-of-wedlock births climbed from a record 36.9 percent of all births to a new record of 38.5 percent. The unmarried childbearing rate (meaning the likelihood that a given single woman of childbearing age chose to have a child) jumped 7 percent. In raw terms, 114,666 more babies faced the known hardships and heartaches of being born to unwed parents in 2006.

Almost all races and ages shared the increase. Eighty percent of teen births are now out-of-wedlock, as are 60 percent of births to early twentysomethings and 30 percent of births to women age 25 to 29. The proportion of nonmarital births among non-Hispanic whites jumped from 25.3 percent in 2005 to 26.6 percent in 2006; for non-Hispanic blacks, from 69.9 percent to 70.7 percent; Hispanic nonmarital births jumped from 48 percent to 49.9 percent.
In Minnesota, the out of wedlock birth rates rose from 29.8% to 31.7% from 2005 to 2006. While those percentages are lower than the national averages, the increase was higher in Minnesota - a 6.3% increase compared to a 4.3% national increase.

And why is this a problem? As Gallagher points out:
We know these children face a massively increased risk of negative outcomes: more poverty, dependency, infant mortality, substance abuse, school failure, criminal conduct and behavior disorders to name just a few.
She points out that the public reaction to this large increase in out of wedlock births was largely silence.

While the government does spend millions and millions to preventing teen pregnancy, its programs rarely if ever mention marriage and usually focus on contraception distribution which of course hasn't been a useful response. (I compare it to pouring fuel on the fire of teenagers with raging hormones.)

I find many people on the Left saying the government has no business being in the marriage promoting business. (Of course, they do think the government should be funding abortions, handing out condoms and endorsing various sexual lifestyles.) While some on the Right wonder if less government should apply to marriage involvement as well.

My view, and the held by the founders of our nation, is marriage is the foundational institution of a healthy society. We will not have a healthy, safe society if the children in that society aren't raised by a mom and a dad. There's no way around it. Until we get it right, social problems will only worsen and the economic foundation of our society will only erode. (The traits individuals need to be productive members of a society are learned in the family headed by a mom and a dad.)

The government's fundamental job is promotion of justice in society. That means setting the legal standard for marriage and insuring justice is secured for the members of that institution. This means one spouse can't just unilaterally walk away leaving the other party holding the bag. And children aren't viewed as pawns subject to the whims of their parents who decide they're tired of marriage and want to try something else. I think it's appropriate for government to point out to people how important marriage is and what's at stake when they make what's supposed to be a lifelong commitment.

But an even more important role rests with churches who don't get it, when they should more than anybody else, that "What God has joined together, let no man should put asunder." The church needs to recapture it's moral voice in word and deed on the critical importance of the institution of marriage to society, individuals and ultimately God.

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