There are so many economic myths and fallacies floating around, especially regarding race. Listening to many news commentators, you would come away believing the plight of the African-American community in regards to poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity is a direct result of years of racism and oppression. This is not true.
This will be one of several parts regarding this topic. Most of my information and data will be based on the book, “Race & Economics” by Dr. Walter E. Williams and “Basic Economics” by Dr. Thomas Sowell. Both these men are brilliant economists and both are African-American. Therefore, I believe they are more qualified than most to write and speak about this divisive and confusing topic.
I. Blacks had a Strong Nuclear Family in the Late 1800’s.
In his book, “Race & Economics,” Dr. Williams notes that the argument that today’s weak black family structure is a result of the legacy of slavery is nonsense and does not hold up historically.
He goes on to state that even during slavery where marriage was forbidden, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. Dr. Williams mentions that a study performed of nineteenth-century slave families found that as many as three-fourths of them, all the children had the same mother and father. This was not an anomaly. In New York, in 1925, 85% of kin-related black households were two-parent households.
A study in Philly in the 1880’s, shows that three-quarter of all black families were nuclear (composed of two parents and children). There were only slight differences in family structure compared to that of other races. Black’s had a nuclear family rate 75.2% compared to native whites of 73.1%.
Dr. Williams lists how female-headed households increased from 18% of the black population in 1950 to over 68% by 2002. He refers to this phenomena as “behavioral poverty.”
As you can see, the family unit was getting slightly problematic during the 1940-1950’s period and then it just crashed from the 1950’s to the early 2000’s. Now, it has peaked with 70% of homes being female-headed.
So the question becomes: What caused this sudden decline in the black nuclear family unit? That’s a complex and difficult question to answer, but research does provide some insight.
II. Welfare Programs & Poverty in African-American Communities
Dr. Williams points to several studies showing welfare programs as a major contributor to several aspects of behavior poverty. It is his contention that behavioral poverty causes physical poverty.
A study titled “Seattle/Denver Income Maintenance Experiment or SIME/DIME” found that: for each dollar increase in welfare payment, low-income persons reduced labor earning by eighty cents. He also went on to cite a 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Data, where they found that a 50% increase in the monthly value of welfare benefits led to a 43% increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births.
Whether you agree with sex before marriage or not, it is a statistical fact that out-of-wedlock births cause poverty. Communities that have a high index of teen-pregnancies tend to not finish high-school and remain poor. Government assistance allows for those who want to remain on the government dole to do so, work less, and take less responsibility for their actions.
Dr. Williams shows this with some stark numbers. He states that illegitimacy in the black family was only 19% in the 1940’s, but exploded in the 1960’s, reaching 49% in 1975. As of 2000, black illegitimacy stood at 68% nation-wide and in some cities as high as 80%. This creates a never-ending cycle of poverty and dependency.
It is his assertion, as is mine, that the consequences of illegitimate births (babies born out-of-wedlock) are far greater than just poverty or lack of education. It produces violence among young, black men and fosters an environment of confusion, blame, and anger. Boys are growing up without fathers, no family unit, and poverty as a result of their parent’s choices. It is a cycle of poverty, sex, and violence.
In my opinion, Lyndon Johnson committed a great harm to the African-American community with the “War on Poverty.” As we shall see in future articles, it has increased the speed of the implosion of the black-nuclear family.
Shouting discrimination and oppression will not fix the problem. As you can see from the numbers above, more government assistance does more harm than good. So how can we, as future policy makers, truly help our black brethren? We shall discuss that in another article. Hopefully, in the next part of this series we will discuss the entrepreneurship of blacks during slavery and slightly after, dispelling some of the prevailing myths that blacks did not thrive under oppression.