Mississippi's #1 Problem: Fatherlessness
A Jackson city councilman recently called for a town hall on youth crime. Good for him.
There are many pertinent topics to cover in such a round-robin discussion, but the 80-plus percent fatherless rate in the heaviest crime areas of the state – including inner-city Jackson – deserves sustained attention.
I once asked Governor Haley Barbour in a radio interview to identify Mississippi’s most trenchant problem. He ruminated a moment before saying, “The breakdown of the family.” But he didn’t pause to further discuss that family dynamic because – like most politicians – he undoubtedly realized it was hardly a vote-harvesting issue; and, really, there seemed little to be done about the contemporary messiness of Mississippi families.
Even so, the professional literature of the social sciences gives policymakers, city councilmen, concerned citizens and clergy plenty of insight into the root causes of crime. Consider these findings from Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation:
Over the past fifty years, the rise in violent crime (which is horrific) parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers.
High-crime neighborhoods are characterized by high concentrations of families abandoned by fathers.
A ten-percent increase in the percentage of children living in single-parent homes leads typically to a 17-percent increase in juvenile crime.
The rate of violent teenage crime corresponds with the number of families abandoned by fathers.
The type of aggression and hostility demonstrated by a future criminal often is foreshadowed in unusual aggressiveness as early as age five or six.
Even in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90 percent of children who are from safe, stable homes do not become delinquents. By contrast, only 10 percent of children from unsafe, unstable homes in these neighborhoods avoid crime.
All of this egregious data proliferated after the Great Society of the mid-'60s became the norm and started having its deleterious effect. Government made a deal with mothers: If you are poor, we will give you money. Have more kids and we’ll give you more money. The money will stop coming if you get married or get a job.
And just what is a policymaker or a concerned citizen today to do with this Great Society outcome?
First, politicians, pastors, community-leaders and parents need to band together and pronounce the number-one problem of this state: fatherless families. Well over 50 percent of babies born in Mississippi this year will be born fatherless, with the number rising above 80 percent for African-Americans. Mississippi tops the nation in both categories.
Second, strategize to reduce these egregious numbers by, say, 10 percent over the next decade and watch education scores go up, crime go down, poverty rates begin to sink and our hope for a morally-sustainable future increase.
By the way, since we brought race into the stats above, know this: the bigoted assumption that race and crime are necessarily associated is flawed and wrong-headed. Indeed, the absence of marriage and the failure to keep both parents in the home explain rising crime in neighborhoods among both whites and blacks. Factoring fathers into families quickly dissolves the differences between races.
Leadership needs to arise and discern a community strategy combining government, education and church to attack the real problem. This effort will require an attention span exceeding our usual commitments.
But we must recognize that town-hall meetings minus an unflinching acknowledgement of the real problem will get us nowhere and that the lack of healthy families is destroying us.
Senior Pastor of Dayspring Community Church in Clinton, Miss., Mississippi Matters columnist Dr. Matt Friedeman is also Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Miss. He holds a B.A. from the University of Kansas, an M.A. from the University of Kansas, an M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. He has been active in the Jackson media as a columnist, podcaster, radio talk show host and television commentator.