The Cycle of Unemployment, Crime and Poverty
Until parents and communities put pressure on children to take school seriously and to put off having children until married, the cycle of unemployment, crime and poverty will not be broken. It’s time for the leaders in these communities to take some responsibility and work to change attitudes and behaviors that are destructive.
The article below refers to a study conducted in Camden, identifying the debilitating trends in our state’s poorest city - a city whose children are provided with not only the most expensive education in New Jersey, but in the United States. Throwing money at Camden isn’t the answer - community standards and taking personal responsibility are the keys to a better life. The motivation for necessary change must come from within dysfunctional communities, it can’t be purchased or imposed by government.
When sociologist Kathryn Edin set out to discover why so many young, poor, single women have children out of wedlock and choose to raise a family alone, she went straight to the source: Camden. The poorest city in New Jersey.
The teenagers who put motherhood before marriage - before even high school graduation - become pregnant not because they lack contraception, or access to abortion, or even access to jobs, though economic deprivation does play a role. They don't give birth simply for a larger welfare check.
They have children to give meaning, structure, purpose and love to their lives, in the only way they know how. Marriage is revered but rarely attained and largely irrelevant. Men are untrustworthy and more trouble than they're worth. Motherhood is everything.
"These bleak situations create a drive for meaning and identity that a middle-class person can't understand," says Edin. "I didn't understand it until I lived in Camden. We treat teen pregnancy prevention as just handing out condoms. It's not about birth control. It's really about meaning, and we're going to have to deal with that."
Indeed, we are. As the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to encourage healthy marriages among the poor, the work of Edin, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, and her colleague Maria Kefalas, a sociologist at St. Joseph's University, shows why there is a broader social stake in reversing this debilitating trend.
But they also showed that the decoupling of marriage and child-rearing, decades in the making, is nearly complete in these neighborhoods. These women remain enthralled with the idea of marriage, but the economic and relational poverty around them makes it seem as unattainable as the rest of the American dream.
Not only has the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock disappeared, but pregnancy, even when the mother is still a child herself, is cause for communal celebration. A sullen, rebellious teen will be welcomed back into the fold when she presents a new baby, with motherhood becoming her one ticket to maturity, competence and acceptance.
But at a terrible cost - a cost evidenced in the concentration of poverty, crime, unemployment and drug abuse in these areas. The mothers' personal fulfillment cannot compensate for the social dysfunction they create by raising children with no fathers and little chance to break the cycle of poverty and despair.
Marriage must again have meaning. Every child, even a poor child, deserves to be raised by his mother and father, or the healthiest equivalent available, and the institution of marriage is still the best way to ensure that happens.