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Fathers disappear from households across America

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But the move toward single-parent homes has included every race, and from Curtis Bay in Baltimore to Millcreek outside Salt Lake City to Vancouver, Wash., just north of Portland, there are 1,500 neighborhoods with substantial white populations where most white households lack fathers. Maine, Vermont and West Virginia have the lowest dual-parenthood rates for whites. 

Southern cross

The decline has hit disproportionately in the South, which considers itself a bastion of traditional family values.

Even in places where the percentage of the black population declined, single parenthood increased over the past decade, The Washington Times’ analysis of census data shows. In South Carolina, where the black share of the population fell by 2 percent, single parenthood rose by 5 percent. In Kentucky and Louisiana, where the black population was constant, single parenthood increased 6 percentage points.

“In places you’d think values are at least talked about, they are not lived out necessarily. Education and income seem to trump them. The people who might not be preaching family values, like coastal upper-class communities, those are the people who are waiting to get married,” Mr. DiCaro said.

The largest geographic area of sustained fatherlessness contains the rural, largely black poor across Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, tributaries of broken homes running 400 miles along the Mississippi River from Memphis, Tenn., where in some neighborhoods 82 percent of children live with their mothers alone, to Baton Rouge, La., in parts of which less than one-fifth of children have both parents at home.

Black families differ from other racial groups in that the average black single mother has more children, not fewer, than her counterpart with a father present. Hispanic single mothers were most often dealing with the most mouths to feed but still had fewer children than their married counterparts. 

To have and to hold

Mr. DiCaro points to a desire among the poor to produce something.

“When you have very little going for you in your life, having children can give purpose to it. If you’re married, you’re going to be much more cautious. There’s health care costs and our jobs, whereas if we were both just kind of doing whatever, then why not just have another kid?”

Mr. McManus is quick to blame the absence of fathers to deaths or incarcerations, though women point out that many absent fathers live around the corner. Mr. McManus attributes that to the young age of many parents who are not ready to be “tied down.” He said women who need help with their children will seek the companionship of other men who they think can be father figures.

Ms. Hawkins, the mother of three, lives with her youngest child’s father but considers herself a single parent.

“When he’s home, he’s watching TV; it’s his time. I get no help. Financially, he’s been a good provider,” she said, even for the children who aren’t his. But “as far as being involved in activities, not so much.”

Her relationship with her eldest child’s father ended over his refusal to support their offspring, and her second child’s father is in prison.

“My oldest was raised by both parents, so it’s just selfish,” she said, but “my middle one, he wasn’t raised by either parent, so he doesn’t know how.”

“We need more fatherhood initiatives,” she said, pointing to government- and nonprofit-funded programs at churches, prisons and community centers, such as those offered by Mr. DiCaro’s group, “so they can see what they’re missing.”

Just then, her daughter Nadya picked up a tree branch and strummed it like a guitar, jumping up and down, all smiles. Ms. Hawkins reconsidered her thoughts on government programs.

“Though to me, that’s the initiative right there,” she said. “You can talk till you’re blue in the face about how to do it, but ultimately, you just have to do it.”

About the Author
Luke Rosiak

Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at lrosiak@washingtontimes.com.

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