Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marriage Crisis The Root Of Poverty

Marriage crisis is root of poverty By Linda Malone-Colon

Ask yourself: When is the last time you heard a public leader talk about the crisis in marriage and family and why it is urgent that we give our attention to this crisis and its consequences? The answer is probably never or rarely.

What is being proposed by these leaders to address the dramatic increases in children born out of wedlock (72 percent for African Americans), divorce, cohabitation, those who never marry and the decline in marital quality?

What are these leaders saying in response to the growing scientific evidence that the breakdown in marriage and family relationships impacts the mental and physical health, educational attainment and delinquent behavior of our children? What about the evidence that this weakening of family relationships is related to increased poverty and to a battery of social and health-related problems for adults?

There are urgent calls to action to address the economic, health care, educational and environmental crises, as there should be, but no national calls to action to address marriages and families. Why not a marriage and family stimulus package?

Unfortunately, marriage has become politicized and marriage-strengthening efforts have been associated with a conservative political agenda. Also, conversations about marriage in the public square are often diverted to or focused on same-sex marriage. While this is an important issue in its own right, the urgency of the black marriage crisis and the 72 percent of black children who are born out of wedlock demands our unqualified and focused attention.

While black public leaders have rightly championed issues of economic and social justice, we have too often neglected the importance within the black community of the health of our marriages and families. The research is clear and unequivocal that as the family fails, issues with poverty, education, health and crime increase. We need champions for healthy marriages and families in the black community to be received as teammates and partners in the broader movement for black uplift.

There have been concerns about airing our dirty laundry in public. Yet, the decline of marriage and family among African Americans (and all Americans for that matter) are on public display and obvious. To act as if they are not is irrational and irresponsible.

There is also concern that marriage-strengthening efforts give blacks false hope. There is an implicit suggestion by some that to inspire African Americans (particularly low-income African-American women) to have healthy marriages gives them hope that they can achieve something that is likely to be unattainable. After all, there simply aren’t enough African-American men available to marry. Fewer available African-American men does in fact present a major but surmountable challenge and demonstrates the need for black women to consider other options (including marrying outside the race).

The urgency of the black marriage and family crisis requires that our public leaders speak up and act to strengthen them. Americans must hold these leaders and themselves accountable. We can no longer allow silence on this issue.

Linda Malone-Colon is chair of the Hampton University Department of Psychology in Hampton, Va., and will be executive director of the National Center on African-American Marriages and Parenting at Hampton University, which is hosting a summit on marriage, parenting and families today.

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