A letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Caldwell News-Topic this week in answer to my question, “Why do African-Americans keep voting for Democrats, given the history of the Democratic party?” The writer said the “common sense” answer to my question was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, along with the accompanying legislation of that period. While this answer may seem obvious, I don’t think it adequately addresses the complexity of the issue.
For example, if how much a political party had done for blacks were the answer, then Republicans would win hands down. Republicans fought a Civil War to free African-Americans from slavery, sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. They also passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments against strong Democratic opposition. This trumps ANYTHING Democrats have done, or ever could do. So, if common sense or even gratitude played a part in their decision, most African-Americans would be voting Republican.
One responder to my question suggested that Democrats give more money to African-Americans through various welfare programs. That is, I believe, part of the answer, but not the whole story.
In 1965, a liberal Democrat named Patrick Moynihan released a report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” – also known as the Moynihan Report. At the time, Moynihan was Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon Johnson. Using statistical data from experts at the Labor Department, he reported that the fundamental source of weakness in African-American communities was the breakdown of the family unit, and that this breakdown had lead to a startling increase in welfare dependency.
For example, young black couples were increasingly having children before they were married, which strained their relationship, both financially and emotionally. Across the board, sociologists and psychologists agreed that marriage should precede childbearing. Yet, nothing could convince these couples to wait; and so they quickly became part of the welfare system. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) actually punished single-parents that found work or married someone with a job.
Moynihan was looking at data from 1940 to 1965, which at that time was disturbing. But if you look at the same data from 1965 to 2015, it is not only disturbing, it’s downright heartbreaking. The African-American community is spiraling downward at a rate that seems almost unstoppable. But it is not just African-Americans. White and Hispanic communities are following the same trends, just not as quickly. Whether you’re talking about drug addiction, crime, domestic violence, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, broken homes, boys without fathers, etc, etc – it all leads to poverty, and poverty feeds the problem.
Keeping people dependent on welfare is not the answer. Teaching them about the benefits of marriage is at least a start. President Trump wants to clean up the inner cities; but that would only treat some of the symptoms, not take care of the cause. The cause is the breakdown of the family unit. We need to do everything we can to help young people understand that strong marriages make strong families, which in turn make strong communities as well as strong individuals.
If you’d like to read more about Patrick Moynihan and the Moynihan Report, go to
The Collapse of Marriage and the Rise of Welfare Dependence and
Moynihan and the Single-Parent Family: The 1965 Report and its Backlash : Education Next
Thanks to Larry Smith in Atlanta for providing what I believe is the right answer. If you read what Moynihan says about the issue, even much later in life, you will see that he wasn’t satisfied that there was a right answer, and certainly not an easy one.
I had other good responses, one or more of which I may deal with later. For now, the discussion is still open.
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