"NEW YORK POST": Finally! City to tackle unwed-mom epidemic

"NEW YORK POST": Finally! City to tackle unwed-mom epidemic

January 13, 2013

It’s my favorite single-question pop quiz: What is the out-of-wedlock birth rate in The Bronx?

The answers I get from New Yorkers who should know better usually top out at 50 percent. Only occasionally does anyone come close to the correct answer: 70 percent.

You read it right — seven out of 10 babies born in The Bronx in 2010 were born to unmarried parents. The state recorded 22,386 live births in the borough that year, with 15,539 born to single mothers. More than 2,100 of those mothers were teens, some as young as 15.

Yet it is how most people react to hearing the correct answer that I find especially troubling. They are shocked it’s so high, but then shrug and mutter something like, “Well, I’m not surprised.”

That world-weary cynicism illustrates the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s meaning of “defining deviancy down.” His point was that a declining society accepts as normal bad things that are not normal. Numbness leads to inertia.

So it is with out-of-wedlock birth. As the proportion climbed and climbed, from single digits to 41 percent nationally, and 45 percent in the city, our political leaders responded with . . . silence. Even Mayor Bloomberg once said to me that “you know it’s something we can’t touch,” presumably because of the racial implications. Nationally, 73 percent of black children are born to single mothers.

That chat was about six months ago — but I am happy to report that Bloomy’s response could be outdated. City Hall is now getting ready to smash the taboo on confronting out-of-wedlock birth. Heart be still.

The effort is in the planning stage but likely will involve a public-service-style campaign, suggests Robert Doar, Bloomberg’s determined Human Resources commissioner. It will focus on “the outcome of the child,” meaning it will warn potential parents about the hard lives of children if the parents aren’t married.

Doar cites unstable homes, poverty, lower educational achievement and higher odds of criminal behavior as the fate of many children raised without a father. He also has a suggestion for journalists fond of tear-jerker stories about poor, single mothers. Ask them, he urges, “Where’s the father?”

Doar made the comments in a thoughtful speech last week when he won the Manhattan Institute’s Urban Innovator Award for fostering upward mobility instead of dependency among welfare recipients. He outlined Bloomberg’s philosophy that combines conservative principles of “work first” with the liberal instinct for government help, including Medicaid, food stamps and tax credits.

The city favors strong anti-fraud measures, saying bureaucrats “cannot be naive about the capacity of citizens” to rip off taxpayers. Doar also believes many advocates have “lost the message” of self-sufficiency.

But he reserved his sharpest language for out-of-wedlock births, saying that universities, religious institutions, the media and black and Hispanic leaders “refuse to take this issue on.”

He included President Obama. After saying the president’s personal family sets a great example, he added, “But he says so little and almost never turns his hypercritical eye on this important issue. He is very good at describing America’s shortcomings and hypocrisies and failures. But not this one.”

The remarks were so bold that I was compelled to ask Doar why the city had not publicly encouraged marriage before children. After all, Bloomberg ran TV ads against sugary drinks, smoking and trans fats but says not a word about the public-health crisis of more than 50,000 city children born each year to single parents.

Doar’s uplifting answer — that something is in the works — included his plan to confront many young people who believe “that somehow or other the government” will take care of them. The message will strive to be positive by getting potential parents “to consider the likelihood that their children will do well in school or succeed economically” if mom and dad are married.

Gotham being the capital of the “anything goes” culture, there will be vile denunciations from advocates and demagogic pols. Expect lawsuits and general hysteria over the quaint idea that an intact family is good for children.

Doar is ready with the right attitude about the likely mouthpiece for the resistance. Earlier, he noted a key to being a good welfare commissioner: “Don’t worry about anything The New York Times says.”

Amen, and full speed ahead.

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