Romney, Obama must address crisis of U.S. families

The decline of the American family is the hidden issue in our election. Sadly, neither presidential candidate is talking about our family structure or traditional values in any positive or constructive way. But we are now facing a crisis of serious proportions that affects all Americans, regardless of race and class.

Charles Murray details the breakdown of working-class white families in his recent book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” It amplifies what Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote almost 50 years ago about the implications of the disintegration of the black family for American life.

This problem requires affirmative policies that strengthen the nuclear family, enhance traditional values and develop inclusive social and economic policies. Yet both presidential candidates are now seeking to polarize on the basis of sexual preference, marital status or lifestyle.

We cannot achieve our national goals, much less reach a broad-based national sense of purpose, without addressing the issue of the family and the related challenges that flow from it. It is just not the Democrats and Republicans who have ignored the issue — our cultural institutions, the media and, in large measure, our elites have failed to address this problem, as well.

President Barack Obama has used his presidency only to be a governmental and political leader. He has failed to offer moral leadership, much less address the issue of the American family — an issue he successfully addressed in his own personal life.

Obama’s recent announcement of support for gay marriage was just his latest assertion of a Hollywood-Big Money-friendly campaign position. It follows his recent announcement that religious-affiliated health care institutions must condone contraception — notwithstanding the preference of those institutions or their leadership.

Yet the president has been virtually silent about the wide range of issues concerning family structure, education and job training, as well as youth unemployment. He has certainly not mentioned the high rate of black teenage unemployment.

Mitt Romney has similarly avoided offering a specific vision for America’s future — unlike Ronald Reagan. Romney has failed to suggest that his candidacy offers anything but a set of fiscal principles divergent from those Obama and the Democrats have advanced. In fact, Romney has said he is “not concerned about the very poor.” Though he tried to clarify his remarks the next day, Romney has not presented any comprehensive social and economic policies that could enhance family structure and benefit all Americans.

Romney’s support for traditional family values has been driven more by his attack on gay marriage and support for anti-abortion rights than any acknowledgement of the challenges facing families today. He has offered no new policies to strengthen and help families.

Both parties’ apparent willingness to ignore this major issue is disheartening. No one is discussing the fact that divorce, in large measure, is driven by the challenges families face trying to support themselves, their children and their aging parents. Neither party has acknowledged the challenges created by the disintegration of both black and white families, nor have they offered a pro-family agenda to strengthen and rebuild those families.

This crisis requires immediate attention, however. Only one in five U.S. households consists of a married mother, father and at least one child, according to the 2010 census. In 1950, 43 percent of households fit the traditional mold.

Marriage rates are down, divorce rates are up and more babies are being born out of wedlock. The proportion of married U.S. adults dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009, the lowest percentage the Census Bureau has ever recorded. Meanwhile, U.S. divorce rates are between 40 percent and 50 percent.

Forty-one percent of U.S. babies are born out of wedlock, and more than half of all births to women younger than 30 are to single mothers. Out-of-wedlock childbearing varies by race, with 72 percent of black babies born out of wedlock, and this number exceeds 80 percent among low-income, inner-city blacks. For Latinos, 53 percent of births are out of wedlock; while among whites, 29 percent of births are outside marriage.

Census data show a high correlation of single parent homes to social, health and economic instability. Marriage rates have declined most steeply among young adults ages 25 to 34 whose education does not exceed a high school diploma. Approximately 45 percent of children raised by divorced mothers, and 69 percent of children raised by never-married mothers lived at or near the poverty line, with few prospects of economic success.

Growing up in a single-parent family can greatly affect children as they become teenagers and young adults. More than 50 percent of all youths put in jail for criminal behavior grew up in one-parent families. Three-quarters of teenage pregnancies are to adolescents from single-parent homes.

We need clear policies that emphasize the primacy of the nuclear family and encourage families to stay together. We also need policies that encourage young people to become responsible adults and successful employees by improving the overall quality of education and job training. Non-high school graduates are almost four times as likely to become unemployed as college graduates. For those who do find jobs, they will most likely make less than half of what college graduates do.

Such policies offer Americans the best chance for success in life — both individually and collectively. The first presidential candidate to address this issue in a way that seeks not to divide but to unite — based on the common goal of strengthening families and promoting family values — will likely gain a decisive advantage in a presidential race that is essentially deadlocked.