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Another View -- Jim Rubens: Black fatherhood matters

August 26. 2016 12:26AM

Racial tension and violence have put burning American cities on the nightly news. This decades-old problem cries out for solutions. Black Lives Matter wants to blame police racial bias, but evidence is weak.

The FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System shows no bias against blacks in arrest rates. Combining all crimes, black perpetrators were 14 percent less likely than non-blacks to be arrested. Evidence for prosecutorial bias is mixed. Incarceration rates for blacks very closely match arrest rates, but sentences for blacks are nine percent longer than for comparable whites. There is little evidence for bias in police killings. The Washington Post did an exhaustive national survey of police killings in 2015, finding more than nine in 10 victims were armed, usually with a gun or knife. Of unarmed victims, death rates for blacks closely match arrest rates for violent crimes.

Compared with white men, black men are seven times more likely to be arrested for murder and four times more likely to be arrested for all violent crimes. Men are arrested for 89 percent of all murders and 79 percent of all violent crimes. One-in-three black men will go to prison at some point during their lifetimes. What we’ve got is a black male violent crime problem. We need to know why and what we can do to heal it.

Family is the bedrock social unit around which healthy communities and nations organize. Robust research shows strong bonds of family and marriage help children grow into happier and more productive, responsible adults. Society benefits from stable families in stronger voluntary civic bonds, health, prosperity and reduced crime and welfare dependency.

Our safety net has created horrible incentives for family breakups. In 1960, before the “Great Society” programs, eight percent of births involved unmarried parents. By 2009, that rose to 41 percent of. Between 1960 and 2011, children living in a single parent household rose from nine percent to 26 percent.

Rates of first-marriage divorce peaked at nearly 50 percent in the early 1980s, then dropped. Rates are rising again to near-record levels. Divorce now impacts more than 1 million children every year.

Broken families are far less resilient in the face of job loss, recession, health crisis, and the high and endlessly rising costs of health care, education and housing. About 45 percent of teens in this less-educated group now live in households without both biological parents.

Broken families are a far more serious problem for blacks than for whites. Among blacks, 66 percent live in a home without married parents. Where 21 percent of white children live without their biological father in the home, for black children, 58 percent live without their biological father. 71 percent of all teens with a drug or alcohol abuse disorder, 70 percent of all teen pregnancies, and 60 percent of all rapists grew up in a fatherless home.

What can be done?

End the tax code marriage penalty, which can be up to four percent of a couples’ income.

End the marriage penalty in means-tested social welfare programs, which provides financial incentive for unmarried child-bearing. In a typical state, a cohabiting biological-parent couple earning $20,000 each would suffer a marriage penalty of $3,000 in welfare benefits per year. For a similar non-biological parent couple, the marriage penalty is about $10,000 per year.

Reduce administrative waste and complexity by shifting welfare spending to an increase in the refundable tax credit for married, low-income working parents living with their children.

Keep low-income and, particularly, black men out of prison, at work and with their families by addressing bias in prosecutorial sentencing discretion, using sentencing alternatives to prison for non-violent crimes, and either decriminalizing or legalizing personal use of marijuana. Adopt addiction treatment on demand.

States should consider applying a rebuttable presumption of joint and equal physical and legal custody and child support for children of divorced parents.

Reform the perverse incentive under Title IV, Part D, Section 458 of the Social Security Act for states to award unequal custody and therefore greater child support payments from one parent to another.

Former state Sen. Jim Rubens, R-Etna, is a candidate for U.S. Senate.

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