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Affirmative Action that Works

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

According to the information released last fall by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poorest families in America have become poorer despite the current economic expansion. More children than ever before are living below the poverty level. Since we have spent in excess of one trillion dollars to eliminate poverty, it is nothing short of tragic that as a nation we find ourselves continuing to battle this seemingly intractable problem.

Yet an obvious and supremely appropriate solution to the poverty problem in this country has always been present, waiting to be embraced. It is the much talked about and constantly maligned economic unit, otherwise known as the traditional family.

Statistics indicate that this customary arrangement imparts greater benefits than even its proponents have espoused. The traditional, two-parent family is the vehicle by which values have been transmitted from generation to generation. This invaluable function provides the very foundation upon which our stability as a society rests.

The family unit is inextricably intertwined with basic economic issues. The correlation between the rise of poverty and the demise of the traditional family is supported by some new statistics. The median income for married, two-parent families is $49,858. When the statistics are limited to African-American families headed by married parents, the median income is $42,069. In sharp contrast to traditional families, almost one-half of female, single parent households are at poverty levels.

Statistics indicate that family coherence has a profound effect on physical health as well. According to a 1995 study reported in the American Journal of Public Health, the average life span is significantly reduced by divorce. This phenomenon impacts both parents and children alike.

Also noteworthy is the fact that church attendance lengthens life span according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. So if the Norman Rockwell model of the American family is good for one's health and wealth, why then is this institution under siege at every turn?

It appears that the power and influence of a prominent elite is somehow eroded by the promotion of the traditional family. At the international level, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child presents a direct attack on the parent-child relationship. By granting children legal rights that are enforceable against their parents, this document of international law is a blueprint for governmental intrusion into the home. The instrument contains insidious language that allows the seizure of children from parents as determined by an international authority.

In the United States, the government has done its part to undermine the traditional family as well. Illegitimacy has, in fact, been subsidized through the requirement that a woman's partner be absent from the home in order for the family to qualify for welfare benefits. This has had the unintended consequence of encouraging the break up of intact families or, in some cases, discouraging couples from marrying in the first place.

Our present form of taxation penalizes marriage. The so-called "marriage penalty" is the additional amount of tax paid when couples file jointly as opposed to filing as two single taxpayers. The Congressional Budget Office reports that a husband and wife with relatively equal incomes filing under the 1996 Internal Revenue Code could pay an additional $20,000 in tax.

Still, the severest attacks on the family come from the entertainment industry and the mainstream media. The disrespect shown to the conventional, two-parent home stands in sharp contrast with the glorification given to the "alternative family" in whatever current fad is being advanced. This may explain why the number of children living with a single parent has increased from 12 percent to 28 percent during the last twenty-five years.

Despite the present circumstances, there are actions that both the government and the private sector can take to support rather than assault the family. More favorable welfare benefits could be afforded to those who stay married. Tax laws could be drafted to encourage marriage. Business and community leaders could affirmatively act to persuade members of the entertainment industry and mainstream media to positively portray strong, marital relationships and traditional family units.

The traditional family is in dire need of affirmation. Action must be taken to affirm the precious commodity of a conventional, stable, loving, two-parent home. No doubt, society as a whole would benefit. This is affirmative action that would really make a difference.

Copyright © 1999 -
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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