Written statement to the Massachusetts Trial Court Child Support Guidelines Task Force
Child Support Guidelines Task Force, Two Centar Plaza;Suite 210, Boston, MA 02108
CPF/The Fatherhood Coalition
Dan Grubbs spoken testimony on Feb. 13,, Boston
George Mason's testimony at Worcester
I attended the first two public hearings of the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines Task Force. Perhaps ten different publicly supported advocates spoke on behalf of poor women and their children. No such advocates spoke up for impoverished men and their children. That is because there are no publicly supported advocates for poor men. I thought it important that someone speak on their behalf.
There are several approaches one might take to approach the subject. We might start with a little history.
In 1965, then Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan produced his report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” It pointed out the sad state of the African-American family. He also described, through pages of disquieting charts and graphs, the emergence of a “tangle of pathology,” including delinquency, joblessness, school failure, crime, and fatherlessness that characterized ghetto—or what would come to be called underclass—behavior. The main point was that fatherlessness was dramatically increasing in these families, and that fatherlessness was the primary cause of these social ills.
Unfortunately, the Moynihan Report has been completely ignored for more than 40 years now and the results have been devastating for urban African-Americans. Rather than working to strengthen the Black family and the role of fathers in their children’s lives, welfare policies actually discouraged marriage and encouraged families to break up. Welfare payments to a single mother often equaled what a man could make by getting a job and working at some menial task 40 hours a week, and as he may become unemployed, they were more reliable. There was even a “no man in the house” requirement to be eligible to receive benefits.
It’s not hard to see the results of these policies. Almost 70% of Black children are now born to single mothers and the situation for Black men is dire. As the New York Times reported last year:
The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.
Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990's and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30's, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.
In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school.
For all of human existence, men’s and women’s economic interests have coincided. For the past 50 years or so, we have run a cruel and unusual experiment by providing assistance specifically to women and not men. This is under the guise of helping families, which can only be true if husbands and fathers have been defined out of families. The results are completely predictable. As Daniel P. Moynihan put it in 1965:
The fundamental importance and urgency of restoring the Negro American Family structure has been evident for some time. E. Franklin Frazier put it most succinctly in 1950:
"As the result of family disorganization a large proportion of Negro children and youth have not undergone the socialization which only the family can provide. The disorganized families have failed to provide for their emotional needs and have not provided the discipline and habits which are necessary for personality development. Because the disorganized family has failed in its function as a socializing agency, it has handicapped the children in their relations to the institutions in the community. Moreover, family disorganization has been partially responsible for a large amount of juvenile delinquency and adult crime among Negroes. Since the widespread family disorganization among Negroes has resulted from the failure of the father to play the role in family life required by American society, the mitigation of this problem must await those changes in the Negro and American society which will enable the Negro father to play the role required of him."
Nothing was done in response to Frazier's argument. Matters were left to take care of themselves, and as matters will, grew worse not better. The problem is now more serious, the obstacles greater.
The same can be said today: Nothing was done in response to Moynihan’s argument, and the problem is now more serious, the obstacles greater.
This brings us to the child support guidelines. In the 1980’s, Americans were getting tired of spending ever more on welfare; we needed to get tough on these deadbeats. The result was to try to shift the burden of providing these benefits to the population least able to afford it. Impoverished, and now disenfranchised, fathers were in much worse economic shape than the poor mothers and children for whom they are supposed to provide -- and they don’t even receive the numerous benefits provided to help support mothers or intact families.
Since then, rather than extend the many benefits that other parents receive to these fathers, we have made enforcement more and more punitive. From taking away licenses, to throwing men in jail, the effect has been to criminalize poverty.
The most unfortunate part of this story is that what children need most is not an extra $25 per week, but fathers. By forcing fathers into an underground economy, creating animosity between parents, and making it economically impossible for fathers to spend time with their children, we make the situation even worse.
Questions: Does it cost more to collect money from poor fathers than is actually received? Is the purpose of child support to actually help children? Or is it punitive?
Mothers receive numerous benefits, from tax deductions and earned income credits, to housing vouchers, free legal help, food stamps, etc. All of these benefits should be included in any economic analysis. They should be included as support for the child, and subtracted from the amount of money that is needed to support the child. Fathers should be given credit for time spent with the child. This should not be included as a straight proportion of the time spent. Even if the father has the child overnight every other weekend, he has many of the same expenses as the custodial parent.
If we take seriously the following principles from the current guidelines:
1) To minimize the economic impact on the child of family breakup;
2) To encourage joint parental responsibility for child support in proportion to, or as a percentage of income; 3) To provide the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the family been intact;
4) To meet the child's survival needs in the first instance, but to the extent either parent enjoys a higher standard of living to entitle the child to enjoy that higher standard;
5) To protect a subsistence level of income of parents at the low end of the income range whether or not they are on public assistance;
6) To take into account the non-monetary contributions of both the custodial and non-custodial parents;
child support should be able to be set in either direction, both to or from either the custodial or non-custodial parent. The guidelines, to be in the best interest of the child, should make it easier for both parents to be part of their child’s life.
Shutesbury, MA 01072