Sunday, January 02, 2005

Sobering Look At Unwed Parents

The Plain Dealer ran a sobering look at unwed parents in Cleveland in a piece entitled 'Culture of marriage' disappearing where they cover the relationship between single parent families and poverty. Read the whole article, it's worth it.

The article slams home the extent of the problem with startling statistics.
It was 2002, the same year that Cleveland earned a dubious distinction as a city of unmarried moms. Sixty-seven percent of Cleveland babies had been born to unmarried women the previous year -- the second-highest rate of unwed parenthood in America.

Over the next two years, poverty grew to ensnare nearly one-third of Clevelanders, and social scientists see no mystery. When most of a community's children are born outside of marriage, poverty is all but guaranteed...

Nearly seven out of 10 black children in America are born to unmarried mothers. Add the impact of divorce, and about 85 percent of black children will spend at least some of their childhood in a single-parent home.

The trend is more pronounced in neighborhoods and cities with large black populations. In 2002, about 80 percent of Cleveland's black children were born to unwed mothers.
It'd be easy to stereotype the problem, but stereotypes fall by the wayside when looking at the case of Missy Williams.

Still, most sociologists probably would have bet that Missy had what it took to avoid teen pregnancy, had they met her at 15.

She excelled at volleyball and softball -- talents that should have supplied her with self-esteem. She belonged to a close, churchgoing family, and none of her four siblings had children before marriage.

Her late father doted on her. He explained the rules of every sport to Missy, a tomboy who loved playing tackle football with the guys and dressing in baggy clothes. He bought her the latest sneakers; he cheered at all her games.

But when unwed parenthood loses its stigma, even the youths most likely to succeed can fall to temptation.

At age 15, Missy met Darrick Mize, father of her first child, while playing in summer league baseball. They courted under her parents' careful supervision, going on lunch-and-a-movie dates at Tower City.

Even so, Missy ended up pregnant.

When single parenthood becomes the norm, not the exception, anyone can fall into the trap. If the statistics above don't convince you it's the norm, these quotes should.
Missy has yet to see any of her peers walk down the aisle, although there are many older married couples living in her neighborhood. "All my friends, they're single parents," she said...

Her current boyfriend, Demetrius "Dante" Hall, lives not far from her Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Missy gave birth to a second child, Dante's first, right after her 21st birthday...

He first set eyes on Missy when she was 19 and pushing little Darrick in a stroller. The fact that she was obviously a mom meant little.

"At that age, most girls around here have babies already," he said...

Back at Kennedy High School, Jacqui Black is struggling to get her students to believe in a family structure they rarely see, and to convince them that it's an attainable lifestyle.

"They don't have any examples of marriage," she said. "They don't have any long-term, I'm celebrating my 50th anniversary' couples to show them."

We're talking about an entire generation growing up without any married couples as role models. It's a long slippery slope with no easy answers. Even if you don't want to push your values on someone else, the economic impact alone is huge.

The surest indicator of poverty is the single-parent family, said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Married people live better and longer and generally have more resources to share with their kids, he said. The children of single parents, meanwhile, are more likely to do poorly in school, exhibit behavior problems and become single parents themselves.

I don't know how you start to make a difference, but people like Williams, who is now attending college, are trying.

On a recent afternoon, Missy stepped into a classroom at Audubon Junior High School. Aware that girls are getting pregnant ever younger, Black hoped to shake up Audubon's eighth-graders and start them thinking about the sexual territory they'll enter at Kennedy next year...

She didn't tell them that she wishes she and Dante would get married. Instead, she delivered a blunt, cautionary tale.

"Right now, don't even think about having sex," she said.

Then she flat out pleaded...

It was a heartfelt soliloquy. And it was impossible to tell if it had an impact. The youths asked no questions and quickly filed out of the room when the bell rang.

The problem is, what do you think has a bigger impact, one hour with Williams, or the next 23 in a culture that says single parenthood is normal and to be expected.