Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

How two-parent families help everyone’s children

Effective Compassion | Growing up in a neighborhood with more married adults helps poor children
by Rob Holmes
Posted 10/31/18, 04:40 pm

A child’s access to—or failure to achieve—the American dream is closely related to his or her neighborhood’s predominant family structure, more so than parental race, income, or education level, according to a study published last month.

The Opportunity Atlas: Mapping the Childhood Roots of Social Mobility by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty and colleagues examined economic mobility data and census figures at the neighborhood level. Chetty identified numerous demographic factors that affect a child’s chances of getting out of poverty as an adult, including how many two-parent families live in the neighborhood where the child grows up. The more married parents around, the better the children’s long-term outcomes.

“All else being equal—income, race, educational outcomes—children who grow up in neighborhoods with fewer two-parent families fare notably worse,” wrote New York Times columnist David Leonhardt about the study. Leonhardt is a rare liberal journalist who believes conservatives get it right on the correlation between single parenthood and poverty.

The study’s findings hold true even for children whose own parents were unmarried, proving the family makeup of the neighborhood has a profound influence on who goes into—or out of—poverty.

“Neighborhoods dominated by single parenthood tend to lock in intergenerational poverty,” Institute for Family Studies authors W. Bradford Wilcox, Jacob Leeuwen, and Joseph Price wrote after examining Chetty’s research. “Specifically, boys and girls raised in families with a household income in the 25th percentile [the bottom 25 percent] were much more likely to escape poverty as adults when they were raised in communities replete with two-parent families.”

The study also looked at different markers of poverty, including incarceration. It compared the lowest-income families (at a single 2010 point in time) and found incarceration rates of 44 percent for black men who grew up in Watts, a predominantly single-parent neighborhood in Los Angeles. But only 6.2 percent of black men were incarcerated who grew up in nearby Compton, a poor neighborhood in which 50 percent of households were headed up by single parents in the 1980s, compared to 87 percent in Watts.

The antidote, as The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector wrote, is marriage—the greatest weapon against American poverty. The latest poverty statistics for married couples with kids are now five to six times lower than for single parents. And yet, the majority of children grow up with no parent, a single parent, cohabiting parents, remarried parents—or some shifting combination of these over the years, according to the Pew Research Center. And never-married mothers are disproportionally racial and ethnic minorities.

Now armed with such data, some progressive organizations still miss the point about marriage and the family’s effect on children’s economic trajectory. TalkPoverty recently cited the September census study but clung to a tired interpretation of poverty as function of racism and unfair housing policies.

Christian ministries that strengthen marriages at the local level may stimulate the greatest poverty alleviation even as they advocate for changed attitudes on race and housing.

Getty Images/Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds Getty Images/Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds A homeless man carries his belongings near the White House in Washington, D.C., in January.

Capital-sized fight over housing

The housing market across the country is bouncing back from the Great Recession, with house prices and property values rising rapidly. Prospering cities now face the challenge of gentrification—how to help a city grow economically without leaving the poor behind.

Washington, D.C., has more homeless people per capita than anywhere else in the country, but the number of affordable housing units in the city remains the same going into next year though income brackets and rental prices increased, according to numbers released Oct. 12 by the Department of Housing and Community Development.

At the same time, the city is spending $2 million on projects like adding artistic lighting underneath bridges to beautify the area, leading some low-income residents to believe the city is mishandling taxpayer money.

On April 13, lawyer Aristotle Theresa filed a $1 million lawsuit against city government, alleging officials were discriminating in their development practices. Theresa said the city was using taxpayer dollars on projects that attract single, high-income people instead of helping low-income residents already there. He cited as evidence the residential towers of studio and one-bedroom apartments and the city’s New Communities Initiative, designed to revitalize areas of concentrated poverty into mixed-income neighborhoods.

City lawyers responded that the plaintiffs had no “factual support” for their claims, later adding that the development had actually helped the city. —Charissa Crotts

Poverty by the numbers

Last month’s U.S. Census Bureau report for 2017 showed a slight decrease in the overall rate of Americans living in poverty, now down to 12.3 percent from 12.7 the year before. Only 4.9 percent of married households are poverty-stricken, compared to 25.7 percent of single-parent households headed by a female or 12.4 percent headed by a male.

The report also found that the people with only a high school diploma fared better economically than in prior years. Asian, white, and Hispanic households experienced upticks in income, with Asians charting the highest median income of $81,331.

So-called income inequality is not statistically different from 2016. Most surprising: The “only group to have an increase in the poverty rate” from the previous year was people with bachelor’s degrees, though “among educational attainment groups, people with at least a bachelor’s degree had the lowest poverty rates in 2017.”

Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico recorded the first- through third-highest poverty rates, averaged over two years, with nearly one-fifth of each state’s population in poverty. New Hampshire, Maryland, Colorado, and Utah ranked least-impoverished. —R.H.

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Rob Holmes

Rob is a World Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.

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    Posted: Fri, 11/02/2018 12:58 pm

    The "Kids better off in neighborhoods with married parents" is up there with the headlines WATER IS WET, SKY IS BLUE. Intuitively I think most of us knew that. Glad to know that hard empirical data back up common sense!

    That now having been said, how many 2 parent families with children would take on as a domestic ministry mission relocating to a predominantly single parent 'hood? I'm thinking not that many. If you own a house you want it to be gaining equity. Since the realtor mantra of LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION carries a lot of throw weight I'm inclined to say that short of yuppie gentrification the stock of housing (owned or rented) in zones with fewer married cisgender couples will be less than optimal if not deteriorating outright. Landlords and property managers likely will never do as much to preserve value and general upkeep as would an actual homeowner. What we need are couples willing to move into and claim neighborhoods for Christ. That would be everything from being the "Kool Aid house" to hosting backyard Bible clubs for kids or even lending tools to neighbors (assuming you first explain how to use the equipment to families lacking weedeaters or mowers etc).  And the hypothetical married couple domestic missionaries would also have to deal with poorer resourced public schools or else just resolve to homeschool their own kids