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Moynihan Report: 50 years later and few changes

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Apr 1, 2015 - 11:36:41 AM

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In a speech five decades ago written by a young 37 year old Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a largely unknown assistant secretary of labor in the president’s administration, he laid out in detail the glaring racial disparities between America’s Black and White citizens. He bolstered the findings in his report, ‘The Negro Family: The Case for National Action’, widely known as the Moynihan Report.

The report opened stating, “The United States is approaching a new crisis in race relations.” American Negroes, he added, now have expectations that “will go beyond civil rights. ... They will now expect that in the near future equal opportunities for them as a group will produce roughly equal results, as compared with other groups.”

However Mr. Monyihan also wrote, “This is not going to happen. Nor will it happen for generations to come unless a new and special effort is made.” Why wouldn’t it happen?

According to Mr. Moynihan, “First, the racist virus in the American bloodstream still afflicts us: Negroes will encounter serious personal prejudice for at least another generation. Second, three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment have taken their toll on the Negro people.” He emphasized, “The circumstances of the Negro American community in recent years has probably been getting worse, not better.”

Fast forward 50 years later and indeed the racist virus in the American bloodstream referenced by the late Mr. Monyihan who eventually became a long-serving U.S. Senator, still afflicts the country causing an onslaught of problems for the Black community.  In every area Mr. Moynihan was concerned about poverty, unemployment, crime, juvenile delinquency, drug use, and a growing education gap the statistics show the numbers continue to soar.  Things continue to get worse, not better for millions of Blacks.

“I think that given the time we are in, we are worse off.  We just don’t believe it.  Moynihan was right on it.  We have the same problems today we had then only worse.  We want to kill the messenger but not the message,” Kenneth Braswell, President of Fathers, Inc. and co-author of The Moynihan Report Revisted, released in early March, told The Final Call.

According to that report, in the early 1960s, about 20 percent of Black children were born to unmarried mothers, compared with 2 to 3 percent of White children.  By 2009, nearly three-quarters of Black births and three-tenths of White births occurred outside marriage. Hispanics fell between Whites and Blacks and followed the same rising trend (historical data on Hispanics are more limited).

The share of children living with their mothers but not their fathers rose in concert with the rise in nonmarital births.  In 1960, 20 percent of Black children lived with their mothers but not their fathers; by 2010, 53 percent of all Black children lived in such families. The share of White children living with their mothers but not their fathers climbed from 6 percent in 1960 to 20 percent in 2010.

Again, Hispanics followed the same trend and fell between Whites and Blacks. The bulk of the increase in the share of kids in “mother, no father” families occurred by 1990; the growth has largely moderated over the past two decades.

In 1960, just over one-half of all Black women were married and living with their husbands, compared with over two-thirds of White and Hispanic women. By 2010, only one-quarter of Black women, two-fifths of Hispanic women, and one-half of White women lived with their spouses.

“Moynihan believed that the rise of single motherhood in the Black community was single-handedly sending them to ‘hell in a hand basket’, but this is simply not true,” said Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) President and MacArthur Fellow Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., a co-author of the report “Moynihan’s Half Century: Have We Gone to Hell in a Hand Basket?”

“Moynihan overlooked the extent to which Black women would increase their education and earnings and pull their families out of poverty, whether married or not.”

Their report found that the changes in family structure that concerned him have indeed continued, becoming widespread among Whites as well, but that they do not explain recent trends in poverty and inequality.

In Moynihan’s 1965 report, he raised concerns that an obstacle to racial equality was the instability of Black families, especially the prevalence of single-mother families. He then predicted that the spread of single-parent families would result not only in rising poverty and inequality but also in rising rates of crime and violence.

The IWPR report found that poverty has fallen, especially when the value of federal transfer programs is added to family income; school completion at both the high school and college levels has increased significantly; and juvenile violent crime arrests have fallen substantially. All these positive changes occurred while the share of children living with single mothers increased through the mid-1990s for all race/ethnic groups.

“The preoccupation with strengthening marriage as the best route to reducing poverty and inequality has been a policymaking folly, “ said Philip N. Cohen, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, and a co-author of the report.

“These efforts have been ineffective at altering the trends in marriage and family structure, diverting attention from the true cause of family hardship, which is largely based on economic forces, not social ones.”

Mr. Moynihan saw the true cause of Black family hardship as racism.  James T. Patterson, professor of history emeritus at Brown University and author of Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life from LBJ to Obama explains in his essay, Moynihan and the Single Parent Family, “Moynihan maintained that the deep roots of this “crisis” lay in American slavery. White racism, mass migrations, and the urbanization of the Black population, he added, further disorganized Black families in the 20th century.”

Concern for the Black family goes all the way back to Dr. W.E.B. DuBois who wrote about this phenomenon is his critical works The Philadelphia Negro:  A Social Study (1899) and the Negro American Family (1909).  He revealed the legacy of slavery as being no legal marriage, no legal family, and no control over children. 

His books surmised, “Sexual immorality is probably the greatest single plague spot among Negro Americans and its greatest cause is slavery and the utter present disregard of a Black woman’s virtue and self-respect, both in law court and in custom in the south.”

While many critics of the Moynihan report focused on his analysis of the problems of female headed households, they ignored his concerns for Black men to lead their families.

Mr. Patterson writes, “Incredible mistreatment over the past three centuries, Moynihan continued, had forced Negro families in the United States into a “matriarcal structure.” This was not necessarily a bad thing, he added, but because such a structure was “so out of line with the rest of the American society,” it “seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.”

American society “presumes male leadership in private and public affairs. ... A subculture, such as that of the Negro American, in which this is not the pattern, is placed at a distinct disadvantage,” Mr. Patterson continued.

The answers to these problems are as complex in 2015 as they were 50 years ago.

“Today it is clear that no one factor by itself holds the key to economic and social progress. Policymakers, community leaders, and individuals themselves must act to enhance economic opportunities and social equity for Black men and families. Otherwise, we may spend the next 50 years lamenting our continued lack of progress,” said Mr. Braswell.

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