WASHINGTON — Many of the same social problems highlighted in a landmark 1965 study on black family structure have only worsened over the last 48 years and are now causing similar hardship for white and Hispanic families.
That’s a major finding of a new report by the Urban Institute, a liberal think tank, which re-examines the circumstances of black families nearly five decades after former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan authored the controversial report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”
Moynihan was an assistant secretary in the Department of Labor in the 1960s when his report cited the breakdown of the nuclear family as the main cause of problems in the black community.
The so-called Moynihan Report looked at societal disparities between white and black families and the need for government action to address them. It focused on high rates of unemployment, crime, poverty, unwed parenting and other social ills that formed a “tangle of pathologies” that steered many black families into a continuing cycle of poor education, limited job prospects and dysfunctional long-term poverty.
The report argued that the rise of female-headed black households diminished the authority of black men within their families, leaving them unable to serve as responsible fathers and providers, partly because of their limited job prospects.
Many African-American leaders criticized the report at the time, saying it was ripe with stereotypes and played down the effects of institutional discrimination and racism. Others said the report “blamed the victim” for the causes and consequences of poverty.
While African-Americans have made substantial progress in high school graduation rates, college enrollment, income and home ownership rates since the 1960s, vast disparities still remain in comparison to whites on a multitude of social measures, said Gregory Acs, director of the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center.
And while many social problems are still disproportionately centered in the African-American community, they have also increased in the larger non-black society.
Consider that in the early 1960s, about 20 percent of black children and just 2 to 3 percent of white children were born to unmarried mothers, while the rate of unwed Hispanic births was somewhere in between.
By 2009, nearly 75 percent of black births, 53 percent of Hispanic births and 29 percent of white births were outside of marriage, according to the report.
A decline in marriage rates has followed the same path. In 1960, more than half of all black women were married, along with more than 66 percent of Hispanic and white women. By 2010, just 25 percent of black women, 40 percent of Hispanic women and half of white women were married.
“That the decline of traditional families occurred across racial and ethnic groups indicates that factors driving the decline do not lie solely within the black community, but in the larger social and economic context,” the report finds.
Acs said that the Moynihan report’s main conclusion about the importance of traditional families has been vindicated by research that shows children from two-parent families typically fare better educationally, financially and emotionally.
“Family structure is important,” he said. “Fathers do matter.”
To improve prospects for struggling black families, the report calls for reducing structural barriers to black economic progress, enhancing the incentives for working in the mainstream economy and improving family dynamics.
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