Runaway illegitimacy is creating a new U.S. underclass
Heather Mac Donald at City Journal critiques the phenomenon of high fertility rate of unwed Hispanic mothers in the United States. The relevant fact is that unwed mothers, usually uneducated and without skills, are bad news as they tend not to be able to care for themselves nor their offspring without government assistance.
Unless the life chances of children raised by single mothers suddenly improve, the explosive growth of the U.S. Hispanic population over the next couple of decades does not bode well for American social stability. Hispanic immigrants bring near–Third World levels of fertility to America, coupled with what were once thought to be First World levels of illegitimacy. (In fact, family breakdown is higher in many Hispanic countries than here.) Nearly half of the children born to Hispanic mothers in the U.S. are born out of wedlock, a proportion that has been increasing rapidly with no signs of slowing down. Given what psychologists and sociologists now know about the much higher likelihood of social pathology among those who grow up in single-mother households, the Hispanic baby boom is certain to produce more juvenile delinquents, more school failure, more welfare use, and more teen pregnancy in the future.
The government social-services sector has already latched onto this new client base; as the Hispanic population expands, so will the demands for a larger welfare state. Since conservative open-borders advocates have yet to acknowledge the facts of Hispanic family breakdown, there is no way to know what their solution to it is. But they had better come up with one quickly, because the problem is here—and growing.
The dimensions of the Hispanic baby boom are startling. The Hispanic birthrate is twice as high as that of the rest of the American population. That high fertility rate—even more than unbounded levels of immigration—will fuel the rapid Hispanic population boom in the coming decades. By 2050, the Latino population will have tripled, the Census Bureau projects. One in four Americans will be Hispanic by mid-century, twice the current ratio. In states such as California and Texas, Hispanics will be in the clear majority. Nationally, whites will drop from near 70 percent of the total population in 2000 to just half by 2050. Hispanics will account for 46 percent of the nation’s added population over the next two decades, the Pew Hispanic Center reports.
But it’s the fertility surge among unwed Hispanics that should worry policymakers. Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country—over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women. Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births—68 percent—exceeds the Hispanic rate. But the black population is not going to triple over the next few decades.
As if the unmarried Hispanic birthrate weren’t worrisome enough, it is increasing faster than among other groups. It jumped 5 percent from 2002 to 2003, whereas the rate for other unmarried women remained flat. Couple the high and increasing illegitimacy rate of Hispanics with their higher overall fertility rate, and you have a recipe for unstoppable family breakdown.
Yet for all these markers of social dysfunction, fatherless Hispanic families differ from the black underclass in one significant area: many of the mothers and the absent fathers work, even despite growing welfare use. The former boyfriend of Jessica, the 18-year-old mother at the Hillview Acres foster home, works in construction and moonlights on insulation jobs; whether he still deals drugs is unknown. Jessica is postponing joining her father in Texas until she finishes high school, because once she moves in with him, she will feel obligated to get a job to help the family finances. The mother of Hillview’s 14-year-old Irene used to fix soda machines in Anaheim, California, though she got fired because she was lazy, Irene says. Now, under court compulsion, she works in a Lunchables factory in Santa Ana, a condition of getting her children back from foster care. The 18-year-old Lothario and father of two, whom Planned Parenthood’s Jason Warner is trying to counsel, works at a pet store. The mother of Carrie, the vivacious ten-year-old sitting in on Berendo Middle School’s Violence Intervention Program, makes pizza at a Papa John’s pizza outlet.
How these two value systems—a lingering work ethic and underclass mating norms—will interact in the future is anyone’s guess. Orange County sheriff’s deputy Montoya says that the older Hispanic generation’s work ethic is fast disappearing among the gangbanging youngsters whom he sees. “Now, it’s all about fast money, drugs, and sex.” It may be that the willingness to work will plummet along with marriage rates, leading to even greater social problems than are now rife among Hispanics. Or it may be that the two contrasting practices will remain on parallel tracks, creating a new kind of underclass: a culture that tolerates free-floating men who impregnate women and leave, like the vast majority of black men, yet who still labor in the noncriminal economy. The question is whether, if the disposition to work remains relatively strong, a working parent will inoculate his or her illegitimate children against the worst degradations that plague black ghettos.
From an intellectual standpoint, this is a fascinating social experiment, one that academicians are—predictably—not attuned to. But the consequences will be more than intellectual: they may severely strain the social fabric. Nevertheless, it is an experiment that we seem destined to see to its end. Tisha Roberts, a supervisor at an Orange County, California, institution that assists children in foster care, has given up hope that the illegitimacy rate will taper off. “It’s going to continue to grow,” she says, “until we can put birth control in the water.”