There's a problem at the heart of the mayhem that...

There's a problem at the heart of the mayhem that cannot be fixed quickly: it's fatherless homes, writes Jay Ambrose. Credit: iStockPhoto

Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff and mayor of Chicago, seems to be doing his daily best to stymie runaway gang murders in his city, and so is his police chief. Maybe they will inch their way to something resembling the lower homicide rates in New York City and Los Angeles, but there's a problem at the heart of the mayhem that cannot be fixed quickly.

It's fatherless homes. The killings are mostly by young blacks shooting other blacks in the city's South and West sides. As social analyst Heather Mac Donald of the conservative Manhattan Institute has observed, two-parent families have been disappearing among Chicago's blacks, and a consequence has been "escalating dysfunction," often meaning violence. She is hardly the first to worry about the phenomenon.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a top social scientist who advised Republican and Democratic presidents and became a Democratic senator, made the connection of unwed mothers with uncontrolled offspring in a landmark report more than four decades ago. His view was that slavery and Jim Crow laws had fostered a ghetto culture in which fatherlessness was increasing along with poverty, school dropouts and crime. Marriage was a solution, he said.

Kay S. Hymowitz, another Manhattan Institute scholar, carefully explicates these Moynihan observations in a 2005 City Journal article that also revisits how many of Moynihan's fellow liberals jumped all over him when he published his study. To many, the thesis was racially degrading, even though it was statistically validated and written by an obviously caring man. Many liberals have now come to concur with his judgments, which continue to be backed by strong evidence.

Some of the support comes from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that can provide endless statistics on how fatherless homes contribute to a wide variety of troubles. That includes the fact that high-violence neighborhoods are almost always neighborhoods in which it is hard to find fathers doing their paternal duties.

Here's a particular tragedy. When Moynihan's report came out in 1965, roughly 23 percent of African-American children were born out of wedlock. In 2009, 73 percent of births to black women were outside marriage, compared with 41 percent of all U.S. births, according to ChildTrends, a nonpartisan research group. The nonmarital birthrate was 53 percent for nonwhite Hispanic women and 29 percent for white women.

While births out of wedlock have been going up, divorce rates have gone down since 1980, and there are obviously large numbers of single parents that raise children successfully.

There is, nevertheless, an undeniable statistical link between the increasing fatherless homes and increasing social pathologies, which brings us back to Chicago.

It has been getting heaps of publicity lately because of the killings, but also, in part, because Emanuel once worked for President Barack Obama. And the president, of course, was a community organizer in Chicago neighborhoods currently in a state of dramatic disintegration.

As bad as things are now, the city has far fewer homicides than in the 1990s, and increasingly capable police work may enable it to bring the numbers down more. It is still the case that our society will suffer immensely if we do not find means of repairing the breakdown of families in Chicago, in the nation as a whole and across racial and ethnic lines.

I do not pretend there are easy answers, but I know we have to avoid welfare programs that make it seemingly beneficial for mothers to avoid marriage. We need community leaders who preach responsibility. We need to turn our backs on any remaining ideological extremists who think it anti-female to say mothers need partners. We should ignore those who blithely announce that various governmental mechanisms can substitute for daddy. We need to embrace marriage as a fundamental institution without which chaos reigns.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at


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