Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The unintended consequences of irrational do-gooderism.

More than half of all Prince George's, DC families headed by single parents

More than half of family households in parts of the District of Columbia and Prince George's County are run by single parents, a home life that experts say increases their children's chances of following in the same footsteps.

The section of D.C. across the Anacostia River is home to the biggest percentage of single-parent households, with 65 percent of family households run by women and 9 percent run by men. The remaining one-quarter of the roughly 32,000 family households are run by married couples, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

A family household is one in which the head of the house is caring for another family member or adopted member. Experts say in most cases that family member is a child.

Other areas in which more than half of families are run by single parents include the remainder of Southeast D.C. and most of Northeast D.C. and areas in Prince George's near the Capital Beltway. In Langley Park, single-father households actually outnumber single-mother households by a 4-3 ratio.

That these areas have a high minority population, particularly among blacks and Hispanics, is not a coincidence, said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"About 70 percent of black kids are born outside marriage, and then you have those born in a marriage, about half of them end in divorce," he said. "And first-generation Hispanics have a relatively low divorce rate ... but once you get into the second generation that disappears."

Haskins said many factors contribute to the high concentration of single-parent households among those minority groups, but "the bottom line is I don't think anyone really understands why."

Children who do grow up with one parent are more likely to repeat that pattern as adults, he said. But it doesn't always start out that way -- in fact, a recent study Haskins co-authored shows that most of those children are born into households with both parents present.

"But as time goes by [the parents] are more likely to separate," Haskins said. "They gradually lose contact with the father ... and it's the transitions and all the turmoil associated with the transition that really has an impact on the child."

While kids tend to fare slightly better with mom than with dad, Haskins said the distinction is difficult to make because the way most dads end up with their kids is by fighting for custody in what is usually a nasty divorce.

Dads in well-to-do Laytonsville have done that at a fairly high rate. More than half of Laytonsville children live with both parents, but of the remainder, 30 percent live with their fathers while 13 percent live with their mothers.

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