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Public Statements

Missing Fathers Cost Billions

Op-Ed

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Location: Washington, DC


Missing Fathers Cost Billions

By Congressman Joe Pitts

Missing fathers in the United States cost this country a $100 billion a year in federal services.

In a recent report released by the National Fatherhood Initiative, Professors Steven Nock, Ph.D. and Chris Einholf, Ph.D. document the incredible fiscal costs of fatherhood absence in our nation.

This report provides a stark look at the cost of the millions of fathers missing from families across America. They estimate that annual expenditures made by the federal government to support homes with absent fathers add up to $99.8 billion a year. They derived this figure from looking at thirteen means tested benefit programs like welfare, food stamps, housing programs, and Medicaid to name a few.

In fact, the $99.8 billion is a conservative estimate because it does not include indirect costs to society such as greater use of mental and physical health services, a higher rate of involvement in the juvenile justice system, and the long-term costs of higher incarceration rates of children of single-parent families.

According to Nock and Einholf, in 1960, 8 percent of American children lived with their mother, but not their father. In 2006, that number had jumped to 23 percent. They note that today, half of all children "can expect to spend at least part of their childhood living apart from their fathers."

The overwhelming evidence present in the report shows that marriage is a powerful economic force for lifting families out of poverty. Of course marriage alone cannot make a family wealthier or happier, but statistics show that married families are far less likely to live below the poverty line than families missing a parent—often times the father.

In fact, the report cites a study conducted in 2002 that estimated that 65 percent of single-mother families would be lifted above the poverty line if marriage rates were the same as 1971 levels.

The report notes that children themselves, in addition to the society at large, pay additional costs as a result of living in single-parent households. These children do less well in school. They have more emotional and behavior problems as well as worse physical health. They are more likely to use drugs, tobacco, and alcohol and are more likely to become delinquent. Teen girls from single-mother homes are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers and teen boys from single-mother homes are more likely to become teen fathers.

First and foremost, children deserve to live in strong stable homes with married parents because it is the most beneficial environment for the development of the child. However this study also notes the massive cost to our society in real dollar terms that result from children growing up without their fathers.

For decades, federal government policy was detrimental in this regard by supporting and even unintentionally encouraging single-family households, especially through welfare programs. Fortunately, welfare reform, passed in the 1990s, changed this. Additionally, in 2001, the marriage penalty was repealed. This tax effectively meant that two unmarried individuals would actually pay more tax by getting married and filing together.

There is no doubt that government policy has the ability to influence cultural values. In these instances, government policies most likely reinforced detrimental behavior even if it was not the direct cause. However, the truth is that neither government policies, nor politicians themselves can force fathers to marry their children's mothers or remain present in their lives. This must happen on an individual level.

However, it is important that public officials continue to understand the real impact of government social programs. It should not have taken decades to understand and change welfare policies that encouraged single-parent families. Fighting for strong family policies not only benefits each individual person that lives in a strong, intact family. According to this report, it could mean huge cost savings to the taxpayer and the society at large as well.}


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