Paging Pat Moynihan, long distance

1101670728 400 01Here we go again.

For various reasons, journalists have rarely done even an adequate job covering the decline and fall of the African-American family. The share of black babies born out of wedlock in the last four decades has soared to around 70 percent from 25 percent.

Tellingly, the original story was broken not by a reporter but by a young researcher at the U.S. Labor Department, who had grown up in a single-parent Irish Catholic household full of Democrats. In the liberal backlash to Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report, journalists avoided discussing the topic of black family dissolution, fearing that they were “blaming the victim” or blaming blacks for centuries of racism and oppression. After black sociologist William Julius Wilson in 1978 made the subject respectable again, a few top journalists explored the topic, but they tended to rely on materialist explanations, such as the role of AFDC or welfare and the decline of good-paying, low-skill industrial jobs.

To be sure, it’s difficult for journalists to cover long-term, quantitative- and sociological-driven stories. Yet the story about black family decline has been going on for a long time, entering its fifth decade. Surely some journalist has identified the main problems.

Well, no, Which explains the stunned reaction to a report by the Pew Foundation about a sharp decline in black mobility. As The Washington Post reported in an A1 story:

Ronald B. Mincy, a Columbia University sociologist who has focused on the growing economic peril confronted by black men and who served as an adviser on the Pew project, said skeptical researchers repeatedly reviewed the findings before concluding they were statistically accurate.

“There is a lot of downward mobility among African Americans,” Mincy said. “We don’t have an explanation.”

Pew hopes to develop some answers in future reports in its series on economic mobility. Reports scheduled to be released early next year will probe, among other things, the role of wealth and education in income mobility.

Mincy and others speculated that the increase in the number of single-parent black households, continued educational gaps between blacks and whites and even racial isolation that remains common for many middle-income African Americans could be factors.

Journalists are given no more than speculation and resignation? Michael Fletcher of the Post should have looked elsewhere for his explanations of the trend.

Although the story no doubt has many parts, it’s clear that two key parts are the decline and fall of the two-parent black family and decline in religious attendance. Heck, haven’t we reporters checked out the debate in black America between Bill Cosby and Eric Michael Dyson? Or have we not read what social conservatives such as Maggie Gallagher and David Blankenhorn or black moderates such as Juan Williams had to say about these topics?

dpm lbyPat Fagan, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, has emphasized the importance of religion and family structure well:

During the 1980s and 1990s, when religious practice decreased overall, the association between regular religious attendance and marital stability became even more apparent. Those who had ceased religious practice divorced 2.5 times more frequently than those who continued to attend religious services. Paul Amato, a leading authority on the sociology of divorce from Pennsylvania State University, concluded that a possible increase in religious practice among some already existing marriages might have offset the negative effects of the overall decrease in religious practice among many other Americans.

… Parents’ religious practice also counts. The greater the parents’ religious involvement, the more likely they will have higher educational expectations of their children and will communicate with their children regarding schooling. Their children will be more likely to pursue advanced courses, spend more time on homework, establish friendships with academically oriented peers, avoid cutting classes, and successfully complete their degrees.

It’s unlikely that the decline in religious attendance among African Americans and divorce (or marriages that never formed in the first place) entirely explain the jump in downward black mobility. But it’s surely more than what our fellow journalists have been telling us.

The Washington Post, by the way, was not the only major newspaper in serious denial about some of the moral and religious issues tied to this painful and tragic reality in American life. Check out the Los Angeles Times story on the same topic. Keep in mind that this information is at the very bottom of the report, literally the next to last paragraph. The key voice here is John Morton, director of this economic mobility study, who says that “changing family structures” are also a factor that must be considered.

“There is a higher prevalence of single-parent families at a time that it is increasingly important to have two salaries to maintain a standard of living,” Morton said.

And this is a new trend? Or is this now into its second or third generation? What would Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan have said about that?

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  • Chris Bolinger

    The press…just doesn’t get religious practice.

  • Chip

    Journalists are given no more than speculation and resignation? Michael Fletcher of the Post should have looked elsewhere for his explanations of the trend.

    Such as a partisan hackshop like Heritage? With Heritage, you know before reading any of their articles what the conclusion will be (problems are the sole responsibility of individuals, less government is always better, racism is overblown, markets will solve every problem, etc.) I’m not necessarily opposed to all of Heritage’s conclusions, but since they are the only ones acceptable for publication at Heritage, it pays to very skeptical about them.

    Although the story no doubt has many parts, it’s clear that two key parts are the decline and fall of the two-parent black family and decline in religious attendance. Heck, haven’t we reporters checked out the debate in black America between Bill Cosby and Eric Michael Dyson? Or have we not read what social conservatives such as Maggie Gallagher and David Blankenhorn or black moderates such as Juan Williams had to say about these topics?

    It seems your complaint really is that the reporter was writing one story, about the Pew report focusing on income, when you wanted them to write a different story, about the family and religion.

    When the article says:

    Pew hopes to develop some answers in future reports in its series on economic mobility. Reports scheduled to be released early next year will probe, among other things, the role of wealth and education in income mobility.

    Mincy and others speculated that the increase in the number of single-parent black households, continued educational gaps between blacks and whites and even racial isolation that remains common for many middle-income African Americans could be factors.

    it sounds like the future reports will specifically look at the impact of the family on income levels, which sounds like something Sen Moynihan would support. Of course, family and religion are not the only factors that determine someone’s income. When I worked in a ministry to the urban poor, my anecdotal observation was that family health had a much more direct link to economic well-being than religiosity. Religious attendance, in my observation limited to several urban neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, was a much more indirect link.

    One of the problems for both the researchers and journalists is how you measure the importance of religion in the life of an individual. Attendance at religious services is an imperfect proxy at best. Hence the tmatt questions, which cannot easily be converted into quantitative research. (Another problem with this sort of research would be if an individual claims that religion plays an important role in their life, yet the journalist labels them as “secular” because they don’t reach the “right” conclusions)

  • Dale

    With Heritage, you know before reading any of their articles what the conclusion will be (problems are the sole responsibility of individuals, less government is always better, racism is overblown, markets will solve every problem, etc.)

    One can say the same about some academic disciplines. Heritage is hardly alone in having an ideological perspective on social issues. If you actually look at the Heritage paper, it cites studies published in peer-reviewed social science journals; to dismiss it as “hack” work without contradicting the findings of those studies is ideologically driven rhetoric, not analysis.

    It seems your complaint really is that the reporter was writing one story, about the Pew report focusing on income, when you wanted them to write a different story, about the family and religion.

    No, the article implied that there was no evidence of what social factors were causing the downward mobility. Mincy’s comment that “We don’t have an explanation” and his speculation of possible causes ignores hard evidence of some of the causes–instability in non-governmental institutions like marriage and religious commitment. Mark was criticizing the article for not at least mentioning these factors and the studies that have addressed them.

    Of course, family and religion are not the only factors that determine someone’s income.

    No; neither is someone’s income the only factor in determining his or her social status. I’ve lived in a country where being “middle class” meant having a two-room cold water flat, a bed, a couple of chairs, a bicycle and a television. Most Americans on public assistance have more material wealth than that; yet these people were definitely middle class in their attitudes. They were educated professionals and respected in the community.

    Measuring social mobility by income is itself a form of bias.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Maybe that old hard-core Catholic teaching (based on the strong words of Jesus Christ) against divorce and re-marriage combined with the strict sexual ethics promoted in the Church was at the root of the rapid UPWARD mobility of so many Catholic immigrant groups.
    These Catholic “markers” are regularly ridiculed today in the MSM–especially in comedys–but maybe Black America needs a good dose of strict Old-Tyme religion to help it take its rightful place in America economically and educationally. This seems to be what Bill Cosby is promoting and is getting tremendous grief from the Black rap music,and the White liberal crowd for doing so.

  • http://religion.beloblog.com/ Jeffrey Weiss

    Um…decline in religious attendance? Really? Seems to me there’s ample data out there that indicates a broad decline over the past several decades that is hardly limited to blacks. Anybody out there seen anything that correlates this with decline in economic mobility among other groups that have experienced this decline in religious attendance?

    In fact, the stats I’ve seen for the None of the Aboves (the fast-growing group that asserts no particular religious affiliation) indicate generally higher income, education, etc. than the general population.

    I’m not saying there’s no link. But I’d sure like to see something to indicate why the black experience would be different from other groups.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Does anyone have anything to say about the actual point of Mark’s post, with its roots in the analysis of the great Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan?

  • Chip

    If you actually look at the Heritage paper, it cites studies published in peer-reviewed social science journals; to dismiss it as “hack” work without contradicting the findings of those studies is ideologically driven rhetoric, not analysis.

    I did read the Heritage paper and am not disputing the finding of the studies it cites. What Heritage has no interest in doing, and where I find fault with them, is that they would only cite the studies that fit their ideology. They would purposely omit any study that reached any conclusion that would complicate their story and so there is no way to put their analysis into a realistic perspective.

    It seems your complaint really is that the reporter was writing one story, about the Pew report focusing on income, when you wanted them to write a different story, about the family and religion.

    No, the article implied that there was no evidence of what social factors were causing the downward mobility.The article is about a particular Pew Study that tried to answer two questions. “Do Americans generally advance beyond their parents in terms of income? How much is that affected by race and gender?” The researchers involved where not asking about the causes for their finding. The article did not report on the causes of the findings because that is beyond the scope of this report. The article clearly stated the future reports will be looking for answers to the question that you and Mark want to ask. Be patient! If in those reports they do not look at the role of traditional institutions, such as religion and marriage, then your criticism (and Mark’s) would be appropriate.

    Does anyone have anything to say about the actual point of Mark’s post, with its roots in the analysis of the great Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan?

    Other than my aside about Heritage, I thought I was doing that. I even mentioned Moynihan, whom I also greatly admire, in my comment.

  • Dale

    What Heritage has no interest in doing, and where I find fault with them, is that they would only cite the studies that fit their ideology.

    Isn’t that what Mark is complaining about with the article? The Pew-funded research isn’t working in a vacuum–Moynihan spotted this problem years ago, and other social scientists have done research that supports Moynihan’s hypothesis in the intervening years. So why isn’t that other research even mentioned? It’s ideologically uncomfortable?

    The researchers involved where not asking about the causes for their finding. The article did not report on the causes of the findings because that is beyond the scope of this report.

    The story specifically addresses causation when the Pew researchers speculated on possible causes. The reporter didn’t even reference other research with actual statistical support, leaving the reader with the impression that this is a newly observed phenomenon.

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