Any politician knows that the family taps our deepest emotions as a haven of intimacy, safety, and comfort. Yet like much in modern society, the U.S. family is changing: About half of all American marriages end in divorce, and out-of-wedlock births have rocketed. The traditional two-parent family is becoming less common. The percentage of children raised by one parent grew from 9.1% in 1960 to 24.7% in 1990. Most children born today may spend at least some time in a single-parent household.
These are not easy problems to solve. But some policy implications are obvious. First, government should reform those welfare policies that actually encourage family disintegration and dependency. Second, talking about family values, however necessary, will not do much to help the real victims of family break-up: the children. That will cost money. Policymakers should focus on helping out parents who work in low-wage jobs, especially single mothers. Low-income parents could get access to better health care and tax credits for child care and housing. The current disincentives against full-time work by welfare recipients should be scrapped. It may be worth investigating ways to automatically deduct child support from the wages of absent fathers.
Compassion and decency are not the only reasons why policymakers should invest in these children. Good education and adequate health care for all young Americans are the best ways to ensure economic growth.