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Issues plaguing black families in the Moynihan Report 50 years ago now cross racial boundaries

Published: Monday, June 17 2013 5:33 p.m. MDT

In this Sept. 8, 1970 file photo, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, presidential urban affairs adviser, and President Richard Nixon, left, are seen discussing. Moynihan was an assistant secretary in the Labor Department when he compiled the study, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." In it he outlined social ills plaguing black families that he argued left many of them in poverty. Many of those issues remain or have gotten worse not only in black but in white and Hispanic families, according to the new report, "The Moynihan Report Revisited,".

Anonymous, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The Urban Institute and Fathers Incorporated have just published a report on black families, "The Moynihan Report Revisited," nearly half a century after a report by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Moynihan was an assistant secretary in the Labor Department when he compiled the study, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." In it he outlined social ills plaguing black families that he argued left many of them in poverty.

Many of those issues remain or have gotten worse not only in black but in white and Hispanic families, according to the new report.

At the time, according to a release about the new report, it "provoked a firestorm of debate in its probing of the roots of black poverty and the decline of the black nuclear family."

In talking about the 1965 report, "about a quarter of Negro families are headed by women. The divorce rate is about 2½ times what it is [compared with whites]," Moynihan said. "The number of fatherless children keeps growing. And all these things keep getting worse, not better, over recent years."

From the new study: "The statistics that so alarmed Moynihan have only gotten worse, not only for blacks, but for whites and Hispanics as well. Today, the share of white children born outside marriage is about the same as the share was for black children in Moynihan's day. Meanwhile, the percentage of black children born to unmarried mothers has tripled, remaining far higher than the percentage of white children born to unmarried mothers."

It notes that in 1960, one in five black children lived with their mothers but not their fathers. That is the number now for white children, while 53 percent of all black children live in such families. At the time of the initial report, only 6 percent of white children lived with mothers, but not fathers.

"There has been a marked retreat from marriage," the report said. "In 1960, just over one-half of all black women were married and living with their husbands, compared with over two-thirds of white and Hispanic women. By 2010 only one-quarter of black women, two-fifths of Hispanic women and one-half of white women lived with their spouses."

The report emphasizes that the "decline of traditional families" across racial and ethnic groups indicates decline in the larger social and economic context," although it continues to be felt disproportionately among black families.

"Several problems create a stubborn tangle that enables poverty to thrive today: Untreated trauma from wars in Vietnam and the Middle East; persistent unemployment; public school systems that offer no vocational training for students who can't or don't want to go to college; and a two-tiered justice system that is much harsher on black men," an article on NPR said.

The Urban Institute's Gregory Achs told NPR blogger Karen Grigsby Bates that since the first report, "significant progress has been made for middle-class blacks, but there has been little economic improvement for the black poor.

"If we let kids grow up in poverty, in single families, going to bad schools, they're going to grow up to become dependent adults. The cycle will just repeat," Achs said.

The report offers solutions, many of them focusing on government efforts. Not everyone agrees that's where the answer lies. The solution, according to an editorial in Investors Business Daily, "is a nongovernmental restoration of traditional family values, with the incomparable stability they provide. Sadly, for black America and society as a whole, it isn't happening anytime soon."

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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