Tackling “big issues” is tough. It’s far easier for policy makers and politicians to make a speech or issue a press release with a few snappy phrases and then claim they are “doing something.”
And if you really want to make things difficult, add in such volatile and emotional issues as race, culture, sex and money -- then it becomes a “really big tough issue.” Who wants to take this on -- it’s easier to talk about transgender bathrooms or such.
Recently, columnist Steve Bailey took on all these issues in his column “Low Marriage Rate Has High S.C. Cost.” Bailey is a South Carolinian who has returned home after a highly successful career in journalism at The Boston Globe and other papers, and he now writes occasionally for The Post and Courier.
Bailey cited a recent study by the American Enterprise Institute based on U.S. Census data and this is what he found:
S.C. is 50th in the percentage of parents who are married and have children under 18 years of age.
Only 48 percent of S.C.’s adult males 25-59 are married -- we rank 49th after “heathen New York” (Bailey’s words, not mine).
We have the third-highest child poverty rate and third-lowest median family income.
Along with North Carolina, we have the nation’s lowest rates of social mobility -- i.e., the toughest place for poor kids to make it into the middle class.
Bailey says, “We stand out because of our comparatively low levels of education, low median income level for men without college degrees and higher percentages of minorities. And we finish at or near the bottom on one measure after another when it comes to marriage.”
This last finding on social mobility is especially troubling. We all want to believe in the American Dream -- if we work hard and play by the rules, our children will be better off than we are. This is the very foundation of our country … it’s who we are.
And the study found “South Carolina is the poster child for this (low social mobility) … the American Dream is weakest in the country in South Carolina because so many kids are raised out of wedlock.”
Read that quote again.
We do not deserve this. And we can do better. We must build ladders of hope and success where our people (and their children) can climb the ladder out of poverty.
As with any “really big tough issue” it’s easier to just not talk about it -- for a variety of reasons:
Sex is not something politicians should be talking about, it’s not polite -- wrong.
Poor people are “different” and they don’t really want to work or have a secure family -- wrong.
We are a God-fearing conservative state and people believe in marriage -- wrong.
The government is handling this and besides, there’s really not much that can be done -- wrong
We can do something. It’s not hopeless. We can effectively deal with these big tough issues. Bailey cites two examples: in recent years, rates of both teenage pregnancy and smoking have declined as both have become less socially acceptable.
So, what must we do?
Here are four things we as a state can do right now to have a big impact.
First, end the marriage penalty. We should eliminate the marriage penalty for means tested welfare programs which discourage low income folks from getting married. Think about that -- government policies are financially penalizing poor folk who want to get married.
Second, increase the minimum wage and expand job training opportunities for effective job training. As Bailey says, “The only anti-poverty program more effective than a good marriage is a good job.”
Third, make access to contraceptives easier for women to avoid pregnancy in the first place. The states of Delaware and Colorado are having great success with long-acting reversible contraception such as a new generation of intrauterine devices and implants.
Fourth, Gov. Nikki Haley should create a cabinet level Secretary of Families and Marriage to oversee and coordinate all of the above policy changes. Creating this new position would send a strong signal that she is serious about doing something.
Yes, this is a “really big tough issue,” but we can do something about it if we look at what works in other states and focus on hard headed cost benefit analysis. Just one example: for every $1 dollar Colorado invested in long-acting birth control, it cut Medicaid cost $5.82.
One of my favorite quotes is from John Kennedy, the man who first inspired me at age 9. He said, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
The question for us in South Carolina is how big do we want to be?
(Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley. His column is provided by the S.C. News Exchange. Contact Noble at firstname.lastname@example.org).