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October 3, 2005

Poverty Underscored By Katrina - More Moral Than Material (Updated)

Topics: Natural Disasters

On September 27 I posted "N.O. Police Say 249 Officers Left Posts: 'A case of the inmates running the assylum'" in which I wrote of the 249 New Orleans police officers - nearly 15 percent of the force, who left their posts without permission during Hurricane Katrina and the storm's chaotic aftermath. In that post I spoke to the topic covered by Charles Murray in his Opinion Journal piece on Sunday, although in a more general sense, but it's worth repeating here:

Somethings wrong with this picture, and I think I know what it is. I believe that the difference is in both leadership and character - leadership throughout the city's administration and the character of a city and a large segment of it's people, steeped in corruption, crime, and a lack of both morals and moral fiber.
Charles Murray's piece takes the issue a little further and speaks to the matter of poverty and the underclass, and he argues that the poverty underscored by Katrina is primarily moral, not material:
(...) Watching the courage of ordinary low-income people as they deal with the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, it is hard to decide which politicians are more contemptible--Democrats who are rediscovering poverty and blaming it on George W. Bush, or Republicans who are rediscovering poverty and claiming that the government can fix it. Both sides are unwilling to face reality: We haven't rediscovered poverty, we have rediscovered the underclass; the underclass has been growing during all the years that people were ignoring it, including the Clinton years; and the programs politicians tout as solutions are a mismatch for the people who constitute the problem.

(...) Newspapers and television understandably prefer to feature low-income people who are trying hard--the middle-aged man working two jobs, the mother worrying about how to get her children into school in a strange city. These people are rightly the objects of an outpouring of help from around the country, but their troubles are relatively easy to resolve. Tell the man where a job is, and he will take it. Tell the mother where a school is, and she will get her children into it.

(...) Other images show us the face of the hard problem: those of the looters and thugs, and those of inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children. They are the underclass.

(...) The underclass has been growing. The crime rate has been dropping for 13 years. But the proportion of young men who grow up unsocialized and who, given the opportunity, commit crimes, has not.

(...) Why has the proportion of unsocialized young males risen so relentlessly? In large part, I would argue, because the proportion of young males who have grown up without fathers has also risen relentlessly. The indicator here is the illegitimacy ratio--the percentage of live births that occur to single women. It was a minuscule 4% in the early 1950s, and it has risen substantially in every subsequent decade. The ratio reached the 25% milestone in 1988 and the 33% milestone in 1999. As of 2003, the figure was 35%--of all births, including whites. The black illegitimacy ratio in 2003 was 68%.

While I whole heartedly agree that concern about single parenthood is legitimate, I also see, through my own experience in working with the very poorest of the poor while serving with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, that single parenthood is not the only factor responsible for children's moral troubles. Equal problems include the way that our country fails to support good parenting, our incorrect belief that higher welfare payments help children, and importantly, it dramatically fails to cultivate critical moral qualities in adults - qualities that are critical to children's moral development - "in part because of wrongheaded notions about the fundamental nature of adult's moral lives" and the failure of secular society to recognize the importance of God and the faith community in the lives of our nation's children. However, my point here is not to depart from the importance of two parent families, but simply to point out that there other moral factors, especially faith - so vociferously opposed by the non-religious left, that also play strong roles in the moral breakdown of our society, so visible in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Disclaimer: My views are based solely upon my experience as a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul through my parish. I am not a trained social worker, nor a social scientist, and my experience is through the narrow window of working with families that range from the extreme poor and homeless to the working poor struggling to maintain food, shelter, and clothing for their children. To this mix, I should add the fair number of single and homeless individuals that SSVDP also serves.

Updated: A reader emailed in with the following comment: Fifty years of Federal intervention into the lives of the underclass, and SIX TRILLION DOLLARS, have only served to destroy the family. The current system relinguishes males from any responibility for the children they have sired. The mothers know they will get AFDC support, and the myriad of other support services, THAT THEY WILL NOT GET if the father marries them, or is at least identified and pursued by the courts. As you know, a court judgement for child support precludes any AFDC payment.

Related:Katrina Revealed: Reality Television, Shades Of Gray, And Morality

New Orleans: Swamp of Corruption

Why Do Single-Parent Families Put Children at Risk?

Dangers of Sole Custody

Posted by Richard at October 3, 2005 7:40 AM

Excellent piece and, I'm sad to say, full of truth. Good job!

Posted by: BobG at October 3, 2005 9:20 AM

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