Income inequality is one of the favorite bogeymen of the left these days. Instead of asking the important question as to whether life is improving–after all, a 2011 Heritage Foundation study shows that most of America’s “poor” live much better lives than what most people think of as poverty–their focus is on the widening income gap between the proverbial C.E.O. and janitor. Of course, the cynic in me thinks that this is because such a focus gives cover for the redistributive policies that our friends on the left favor these days. “Who cares that the rich bear by far the greatest share of the tax burden,” liberals ask us. “They don’t pay their ‘fair share.'” Here is a fun parlor game: the next time this topic comes up, inquire as to just how much more the much-maligned wealthy should pay in taxes in order to be “fair.” Better still, ask why narrowing the income gap is more important than improving the earnings of all. You will get some interesting answers and/or blank stares.
But kudos to Robert Maranto and Michael Crouch of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. These two ed reformers had the good sense to point out what should be obvious to all–two-parent households are good for kids and good for society. In a Wall Street Journal piece entitled “Ignoring an Inequality Culprit: Single-Parent Families,” they point out just how willfully blind the left is to cause and effect on the relationship between rising divorce rates and widening wage gaps:
Suppose a scientific conference on cancer prevention never addressed smoking, on the grounds that in a free society you can’t change private behavior, and anyway, maybe the statistical relationships between smoking and cancer are really caused by some other third variable. Wouldn’t some suspect that the scientists who raised these claims were driven by something—ideology, tobacco money—other than science?
Yet in the current discussions about increased inequality, few researchers, fewer reporters, and no one in the executive branch of government directly addresses what seems to be the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single-parent families during the past half century.
They propose three reasons for this myopia. First, the intellectual and cultural elites who dominate social science don’t want to be seen as siding with social conservatives, “even if the evidence leads that way.” What is that cute saying that liberals love so much? Oh yes, “Facts have a well-known liberal bias.” No surprise that “elites” with such an attitude find it difficult to see beyond their own worldview. The second reason is that since the breakup of families is a greater problem in minority communities, just raising the issue makes you vulnerable to cries of racism.
And the third reason? Swimming against the current is hard:
Welfare reform beginning in the mid-1990s offered only modest marriage incentives and has been insufficient to change entrenched cultural practices. The change must come from long-term societal transformation on this subject, led by political, educational and entertainment elites, similar to the decades-long movements against racism, sexism—and smoking.
So we have to count on Hollywood, politicians, and classroom education to reinforce the common sense notion that a stable family structure is a good thing? You’ll excuse me if I don’t hold my breath. Maranto and Crouch are fighting the good fight, but writers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray have spent several decades pointing out that more than anything, pathological behaviors contribute to poverty. Still, we fight on.