The father factor
Two-parent families make a stronger America
Father’s Day has come and gone. The grills are turned off and the gift ties have been put away. The leisurely family time is over and we are all back to the daily grind. But there is much work to do to strengthen America’s families. We are regularly asked by people, in Washington, D.C. and around the nation what we believe our country’s most pressing issues are. Most consistently, we often reply: America’s families.
As fathers, we can personally attest that this job is one of the most rewarding, but it is also extremely important to the health of our nation. It’s easy to see from the nation’s capital that the federal government is often confronted with domestic issues that stem from unstable communities and families who aren’t self-sufficient.
People want family to work, they wish it would work, but careless moments and busy days have distracted our nation from our families. In previous generations, families lived nearby and generations stayed connected. They taught each other, encouraged work, provided a safety net and passed on their faith. Now, we seem to have everything we want, except strong families. I believe our nation and our children are poorer for what we have lost.
As families falter, the government has risen to meet the needs of the family. But government is a poor substitute for a committed family. Just take a look at the foster care system to find an example of this. When families falter and children are abused, the government maintains custody of vulnerable children. Among foster children who grow up and “age out” of the foster system, one in five will become homeless after age 18. One in four will be involved in the justice system within two years of leaving the foster care system. This shows in a very vivid way how children suffer when families break down.
Look at any community across America and you will see the direct correlation. In communities with more broken families and more absent fathers, you will see higher crime and a weaker economy. The opposite will exist in communities with more stable families. To take stress off the government, families must become more stable and self-sufficient.
An October 2015 American Enterprise Institute economic study shows this dynamic very clearly. The research indicated that higher levels of marriage are strongly associated with a better economy, less child poverty, and higher median family income at the state level in the United States. For states with higher married-parent families, you will find $1,451 higher per capita gross domestic product, a 13.2 percent decline in the child poverty rate, and a $3,654 higher median family income. That same study shows that violent crime is much less common in states with larger shares of families headed by married parents. The economic data is clear — stronger families in America would lead to a stronger economy, safer neighborhoods and less poverty.
Ask any teacher why teaching is tougher now and they will tell you about behavioral problems, lack of parental involvement and issues related to home, before they ever talk about budget realities. Talk to five men in prison and you will find only two who grew up in a stable two-parent home.
Go to a business owner or manager and ask what kind of employee they want, and they will typically answer: someone who will show up and be committed and work consistently, characteristics most often developed in a committed and stable home.
Today, about 24 million children — or one in three — live in a home without the physical presence of an engaged father. Most research shows there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the major social issues facing America today, including poverty, education, child health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse.
Every state, every neighborhood and every community is currently experiencing challenges in the family. But in every neighborhood, in every community and every state you will also find great examples of committed families. Our future is not inevitable, it is in our hands. Our greatest challenge will not be solved by more government, it will be solved by communities, nonprofits, churches and families who care for each other.
Washington should focus on policy solutions that encourage the commitment of families, including eliminating marriage penalties, creating more favorable tax policy for families, and using public platforms to verbally promote the benefits of family, especially among young people before they have children.
Our families are not beyond repair; they are damaged, but redeemable. Decisions must be made in each home about what is most important and what is our first commitment. Fathers, let’s step up our game. Our kids and our nation are counting on us. Let’s build a strong nation by building strong family commitments again. James Lankford is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.