“Nobody gets married any more, Mister”

Gerry Garibaldi’s four favorite students are pregnant this year, he writes in “Nobody Gets Married Any More, Mister” in City Journal.

His urban school gets lots of federal money under Title I.

At my school, we pay five teachers to tutor kids after school and on Saturdays. They sit in classrooms waiting for kids who never show up. We don’t want for books—or for any of the cutting-edge gizmos that non–Title I schools can’t afford: computerized whiteboards, Elmo projectors, the works. Our facility is state-of-the-art, thanks to a recent $40 million face-lift, with gleaming new hallways and bathrooms and a fully computerized library.

It won’t help without “personal moral accountability,” he writes.

Within my lifetime, single parenthood has been transformed from shame to saintliness. In our society, perversely, we celebrate the unwed mother as a heroic figure, like a fireman or a police officer. During the last presidential election, much was made of Obama’s mother, who was a single parent. Movie stars and pop singers flaunt their daddy-less babies like fishing trophies.

None of this is lost on my students. In today’s urban high school, there is no shame or social ostracism when girls become pregnant. Other girls in school want to pat their stomachs. Their friends throw baby showers at which meager little gifts are given. After delivery, the girls return to school with baby pictures on their cell phones or slipped into their binders, which they eagerly share with me.

Connecticut, where he teaches, offers medical coverage, child care,housing subsidies, food and cash to out-of-wedlock mothers.

If you need to get to an appointment, state-sponsored dial-a-ride is available. If that appointment is college-related, no sweat: education grants for single mothers are available, too. Nicole didn’t have to worry about finishing the school year; the state sent a $35-an-hour tutor directly to her home halfway into her final trimester and for six weeks after the baby arrived.

In theory, this provision of services is humane and defensible, an essential safety net for the most vulnerable—children who have children. What it amounts to in practice is a monolithic public endorsement of single motherhood—one that has turned our urban high schools into puppy mills. The safety net has become a hammock.

Young fathers, who usually grew up without a father, see getting a girl pregnant as “a he-man thing,” but quickly lose interest in the baby.

Fatherless families are “the calamity in our midst,” writes Washington Post columnist Colbert King.

When Black History Month was celebrated in 1950, according to State University of New York research, 77.7 percent of black families had two parents. As of January 2010, according to the Census Bureau, the share of two-parent families among African Americans had fallen to 38 percent.

The social safety net keeps growing, making it ever easier for young parents to avoid their responsibilities, King laments.

Robert Pondiscio is trying to help a former South Bronx student, very bright, emotionally volatile, who just gave birth to her second child. She’s 17.

About Joanne


  1. When will we see leaders, especially in the black community, stand up and speak the truth? Bill Cosby spoke the truth once and was immediately ostracized by the majority of the leadership in the African-American population.
    Leaders in politics, entertainment, social institutions, and the church must begin to take their leadership role seriously.

    Many programs such as those mentioned in this article appear compassionate on the surface, and they do serve the purpose of providing immediate support for those less fortunate. But without a corresponding social accountability, the programs serve to only strengthen the cycle of poverty.

    More money is not the answer. To relate a quick anecdote, I was on a plane recently with a man who had returned from a trip to Hiroshima. He spoke in glowing terms about the cleanliness and effeciency of the city. As it happened, he was from the Detroit area and he compared what he saw in Hiroshima with what he sees in downtown Detroit. He made the point that 65 years after an atomic bomb, Hiroshima is a vibrant city while after 45 years of social programs Detroit is in shambles. Where is the accountability for our tax dollars?

  2. Tim-10-ber says:

    I have to wonder what would happen if the money stopped flowing to unwed mothers…no more benefits… No more healthcare, foodstamps, etc. Would this behavior stop? I dont know bu it sure seems like the government is making this too easy. When do the taxpayers speak up?

  3. What, you think they’d be model citizens without the tax dollars?

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Tax an activity, and you get less of it.

    Subsidize it, and you get more.

    This is junior high economics.

  5. And if you put the unwed, uneducated parents (both of them) on work details if they couldn’t support their children (especially in ugly uniforms in their home neighborhoods), you’d put the kibosh on that kind of thing real fast.

  6. Michael, I said nothing of “less” or “more” (if you were talking to me).

    I’m just pointing out that it’s a symptom, not a cause. The kids would still be very low performers. I agree they shouldn’t have kids.

  7. Bill Leonard says:

    Cal, about seven out of 10 black children and roughly one out of two hispanic children — depending on whose stats you want to accept — are born to single, usually teenaged, mothers. Model citizens or not, I don’t believe that in different circumstances, say, essentially no subsidies for basically stupid behavior, seven of 10 black kids and one of two hispanic kids would be low performers. While statistically not as drastic, it is still true that about one of three white kids now are born to single, usually teenaged, mothers as well.

    If this goes on, we have a social disaster that is only getting worse — exponentially.

  8. Belinda Gomez says:

    I think the most important thing is figure out why girls see nothing else on the horizon other than having a baby. They know that they can’t all be Beyonce or Michelle Obama, but there must be some sort of achievable goals that can be presented to them in a way that makes having a baby at 16 look like drudgery.

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Part of the allure, I think — and I do only mean *part* — is that when you have a child, you’re actually doing something. That’s a huge step up in the world from what many of our schools allow for children.

    I suspect that if we actually allowed our students to do things that mattered, rather than trying to keep them cloistered in some sort of harmless, sterile environment until they were 18, we might see a reduction in certain productive, but undesirable behaviors.

  10. Model citizens or not, I don’t believe that in different circumstances, say, essentially no subsidies for basically stupid behavior, seven of 10 black kids and one of two hispanic kids would be low performers.

    Most data says you are wrong. Similarly, the one in three white girls who have babies are in most cases considerably better-skilled than the black and Hispanic girls.

    In fact, poor white girls, on average, are better skilled than wealthy blacks. (But whether or not that’s true of the white girls who have babies, I dunno).

  11. A recent commenter on another website reported that, according tothe 1950 US Census data, over 70% of black kids lived in two-parent families, and that data likely reflected many mothers widowed during WWII . (I didn’t check the data) Since the 60s, the end of segregation, the expansion of educational and employment opportunities and the massive expenditures on government programs have seen the destruction of the black family. Those decades have also seen the rise of a strong anti-education strand in the black community. When working hard and doing well in school are seen as a betrayal of one’s racial group, it’s a hard sell. All of the above also apply to increasing segments of other groups.

  12. Plain and simple… sex is fun. Teenagers like to have fun. Especially cheap fun. Sex is cheap, especially if you don’t bother buying condoms or other birth control. Hence, teenagers will rut like rabbits given the chance.

    There needs to be a cost to offset the benefit (the fun). It used to be that unwed mothers would be subject to social stigma, even within their own family. Having a baby out of wedlock was wrong. Fathering a child out of wedlock was viewed the same.

    It’s not so much the tax-supported safety net that has caused the growth of single parenthood, but instead the anti-establishment shift toward moral ambivalence that grew out of the 60’s.

  13. Having a baby out of wedlock was wrong. Fathering a child out of wedlock was viewed the same.

    If a subculture has internalized contrary values, there’s still the law.  The only thing which enables such dysfunction is the web of subsidies from the broader culture.  Make those contingent upon performing exhausting work service, and the fun suddenly isn’t worth it.

  14. I dunno EP… I’ve seen plenty of families that completely embrace and support unwed mothers. Its the same acceptance that has driven the increase in subsidies in recent time. The subsidies are a symptom of the moral decline, not the cause.

  15. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Unwed teen pregnancy. Latchkey children. Adults who think and act like adolescents. Lax school rules and low expectations. Vulgar and profane songs, movies, TV, etc. As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said in the ’90’s…we have succeeded in “defining deviancy down”…American society as a whole has tolerated the intolerable. Can we return to the “basics”…the quaint notion of the nuclear family, respect for elders, respect for society, respect for self? Can the genie be put back in the bottle? We have tolerated the intolerable for so long, I think not. America faces many external threats, but as in Ancient Rome, we are crumbling from within. History repeats itself. Pray that I am wrong.

  16. The abortion rate among African Americans has sky-rocketed in the last decade. The beginning of the increase can be traced to Bill Clinton signing Welfare Reform in the ’90’s. According to recent census data, 41% of all pregnancies in NYC end in abortion. The rate is highest among AA’s followed closely by Latino’s.

    To reduce the number of both out of wedlock births and abortions (if that’s our goal – is it?), we need to be more honest with young people about the consequences of sex, and we need to stop romaticizing and legitimizing poor decisions. How do we do that without being punitive? I don’t think it’s possible.