Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the Moynihan Report. Why it's more relevant than ever.
Long before #BlackLivesMatter, a young sociologist named Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognized an important element in that truism: fathers matter in the lives of young black men.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, a key piece of legislation in the history of civil rights for black Americans.
It’s also the 50th anniversary of “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” generally referred to as the Moynihan Report, after the author, who was assistant secretary of Labor under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Released in March 1965, the future senator’s report almost instantly caused controversy. Jason Riley, the author of “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (Encounter Books, 2014), wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, that Moynihan highlighted troubling cultural trends among inner-city blacks, with a special focus on the increasing number of fatherless homes.
“The fundamental problem is that of family structure,” wrote Moynihan, who had a doctorate in sociology. “The evidence—not final but powerfully persuasive—is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling.”
For his troubles, Moynihan was denounced as a victim-blaming racist bent on undermining the civil-rights movement. Even worse, writes Harvard’s Paul Peterson in the current issue of the journal Education Next, Moynihan’s “findings were totally ignored by those who designed public policies at the time.” The Great Society architects would go on to expand old programs or formulate new ones that exacerbated the problems Moynihan identified. Marriage was penalized and single parenting was subsidized. In effect, the government paid mothers to keep fathers out of the home—and paid them well.
Similar to another "report" that came out that decade, the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, the Moynihan Report’s prophetic nature has sadly been proven true. Riley writes:
History has proved that Moynihan was onto something. When the report was released, about 25% of black children and 5% of white children lived in a household headed by a single mother. During the next 20 years the black percentage would double and the racial gap would widen. Today more than 70% of all black births are to unmarried women, twice the white percentage….
For decades research has shown that the likelihood of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, dropping out of school and many other social problems grew dramatically when fathers were absent. One of the most comprehensive studies ever done on juvenile delinquency—by William Comanor and Llad Phillips of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2002—concluded that “the most critical factor affecting the prospect that a male youth will encounter the criminal justice system is the presence of his father in the home.”
Riley cites other evidence to show the correlation between stable marriages and families and economic and social well-being:
In 2012 the poverty rate for all blacks was more than 28%, but for married black couples it was 8.4% and has been in the single digits for two decades. Just 8% of children raised by married couples live in poverty, compared with 40% of children raised by single mothers.
As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, perhaps it’s time to revisit the Moynihan Report and ask whether history can still be changed if we take its recommendations more seriously.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.