Does welfare cause illegitimacy? — with Charles Murray (1994) | THINK TANK

Does welfare cause illegitimacy? — with Charles Murray (1994) | THINK TANK

Ben Wattenberg: Hello. I’m Ben Wattenberg. The out-of-wedlock birth rate, illegitimacy,
is soaring in America. Some argue that the welfare system is to blame. Are we hurting those we want to help? Joining us are political scientist Charles
Murray of the American Enterprise Institute and author of the bestselling book “Losing
Ground”; professor of history and Pulitzer Prize–winner Roger Wilkins of George Mason
University; Sheldon Danziger, professor of social work and public policy at the University
of Michigan and author of “Uneven Tides: Rising Inequality in America”; and economist
Glenn Loury of Boston University, author of “One by One from the Inside Out.” The first question before the house is this:
Does welfare cause illegitimacy? This week on “Think Tank.” Last fall, Charles Murray electrified the
welfare debate by re-asking a simple but important question: Does welfare cause illegitimate
births? His answer: Yes. Murray’s solution: Cut off welfare, period. His argument got people talking, including
the president of the United States, who said, “He did the country a great service. He and I have often disagreed, but I think
his analysis is essentially right.” But on cutting welfare, Clinton also said,
“There’s no question that that would work. The question is: Is it morally right?” Now, for years I resisted some of Charles
Murray’s views. Recently, however, I went to Kansas City and
asked some welfare recipients what they thought. (Videotape segment) Ben Wattenberg: Some people say look, these
young women are going out and getting pregnant in order to get this welfare money. I don’t buy that — Woman #1: No — Woman #2: Some are. ’Cause the more children you have, the more
your check goes up. And there are young girls out there who will
brag about it. They’ll say, “I have four kids, so I get
this, this, this amount money. I get this, this, this amount of food stamps.” There is a certain amount of people who do
that. Ben Wattenberg: Do you agree with Yetra that
there are young women — Woman #3: Yes. Ben Wattenberg: Out there — Woman #3: There is. Ben Wattenberg: Having children just to get
the welfare? Woman #3: Right. There are women out there just having children
just to get it. Woman #4: That’s what they’d rather do. Woman #3: And sit down at home and do nothing,
and collect the checks. (End of videotape segment) Ben Wattenberg: Well, of course, that’s
only anecdotal. And remember, all they said was this only
involves some mothers. Let’s take a look at the data. First, we know that the cash benefit, Aid
to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), has actually declined in value over the last
25 years. But the number of people on welfare went up. In 1960, only about three million Americans
received AFDC benefits. Today that number has grown to more than 14
million. But if recipients are getting less cash, why
did more people sign up for welfare? Well, AFDC is not the sum total of all welfare
benefits. The total package, including Medicaid, food
stamps, housing subsidies, child nutrition programs, increased dramatically in the last
30 years. The estimated value of this “greater welfare”
just about doubled. What’s the bottom line? Total federal spending on all welfare programs
rose from less than $5 billion in 1965 to almost $160 billion in 1992 in constant dollars. And what happened to the illegitimate birth
rate during that time? It skyrocketed from 7 percent of all births
in 1965 to almost 30 percent today. The question posed by the data is this: Does
welfare encourage illegitimacy, or are other factors at work? In the language of social science, are these
two trends causal or coincidental? Charles Murray, you seem to be driving this
bus. Does welfare cause illegitimate births? Charles Murray: If you mean is it the single,
solitary cause, of course not. But look, think of a woman having a baby out
of wedlock as two major clumps of forces. Some of them are economic. Can she or can she not afford to take care
of the child? Some of them are social, social stigma. What the welfare system did was make it possible
to take care of a baby without having a husband. There was a dramatic change in that from the
early 1960s into the 1970s, and the changes in the system since then haven’t changed
that basic reality. You can have a baby without a husband and
take care of it. And that’s crucial. Ben Wattenberg: Sheldon Danziger, I think
you don’t agree with that, from what I have read of your work. Sheldon Danziger: No, I don’t agree with
it. We have a problem with the welfare system,
and we have a problem with increasing numbers of children being born out of wedlock. The effect on illegitimacy rates and out-of-wedlock
birth ratio are very, very small based on the research I’ve seen. I would place the driving forces well beyond
welfare. And I would point to the very large increases
in divorce rates and out-of-wedlock birth rates for people who never go on welfare. Ben Wattenberg: What about that, Charles? He says — Charles Murray: I find it absolutely fascinating
that illegitimacy is so intensely concentrated among very low-income women. I’ll give you an example. White women — don’t talk about blacks
— among white women who are below the poverty line in the year prior to birth, about 44
percent of all their children are out of wedlock. White women anywhere above the poverty line
in the year prior to birth, it’s 6 percent of births. Now, come on. There’s got to be some bizarre reason why
very poor women suddenly find it desirable to have babies out of wedlock, whereas not-poor
women don’t. Ben Wattenberg: Glenn, what do you think? Glenn Loury: Well, I mean, I think there’s
a sense in which, almost by definition, Charles is right. If you don’t have a way of living when you
go down a certain path, fewer people will pursue that path. And therefore, the fact that welfare, greater
welfare, not just AFDC — food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and so forth — is available
makes viable a way of life that would not be viable otherwise. We’ve got a dilemma. And the dilemma is if we help people do something
— let’s say they move into a flood plain and the river overflows its banks. Now they’re flooded, right? Let’s say they move to a hillside and the
mud slides. Now there’s a mudslide and mud’s in their
homes. If we help them, we’re going to make it
easier for them to pursue a course of conduct of which we might not approve. On the other hand — Ben Wattenberg: They could move back onto
the flood plain. Glenn Loury: That’s right. We make it viable. We supply the oxygen. Someone has taken on a course of action where
they’re now suffocating. We give them oxygen. That means we’ve made it possible for them
to pursue that course of action. On the other hand, if we don’t help them,
we watch them suffer. Now, that’s a dilemma. Ben Wattenberg: Well, if the dilemma is we’re
providing oxygen, isn’t a — let me play Murray for a minute — isn’t the solution
to cut off the oxygen? Glenn Loury: If you’re prepared to watch
what happens when people are suffocating in front of you and do nothing about it. The fact of the matter is we are not prepared
to do that as a society. We simply aren’t. Ben Wattenberg: Roger Wilkins, have we created
a Frankenstein monster in welfare? You and I worked on the LBJ Great Society
together, where all this sort of started. Has something gone terribly wrong? Roger Wilkins: I’m going to create a Frankenstein
of myself by saying that I agree with Bill Clinton, which I never do, about his praise
of Charles Murray. Now, the lightning will probably strike me
the minute I walk out of here. (Laughter.) Ben Wattenberg: Stop the cameras! Roger Wilkins: I think Murray’s piece in
The Wall Street Journal, which pointed out the enormous increase of out-of-wedlock births
to poor white women, was a tremendous service to this society. Now, I don’t go with his prescriptions,
but what he tells us really is that the bottom of American society is falling apart. Families have fallen apart. And consequently, out-of-wedlock births have
gone up. Now, those — there are other societal forces
at work as well. Charles Murray: Well, we have this promising
little bit of common ground. If I hear Roger Wilkins say something nice
about me, I want to try to respond in kind. (Laughter.) I think Glenn said we have a dilemma, and
I think the statement of that dilemma is correct. There is increasingly a perception that we
have a serious problem that has nothing to do with budget deficits. It has to do with a fundamental collapse of
certain kinds of institutions by which you have a free society built. Sheldon Danziger: But you have a system of
one strike and you’re out for a young woman who makes a mistake, and that’s — we have
three strikes and you’re out being put in for felons. And I think your view is, one strike and you’re
out: no public assistance. The private market will go in. But there are other ways to think about having
a system which expects responsibility from the mothers and fathers of those children,
which is a second-chance system. Ben Wattenberg: But if you reduce the welfare
package, won’t you have fewer people —substantially reduced — won’t you have fewer people
taking that one strike? Instead of having a child, then getting a
high school degree, then going to work, reverse it into the traditional way. Get your high school degree, get a job, get
a husband, get a baby. Don’t we want to eliminate those incentives? Sheldon Danziger: If you say, “These are
problems we’re concerned about, welfare dependency and out-of-wedlock births,” it
seems to me you ought to think of both positive and negative incentives to try to do it. And Charles’ thought experiment is very
drastic. Ben Wattenberg: Glenn Loury — one second
— are these guys all a bunch of government policy wonks? I mean, they’re talking about raising this
and lowering this and taxing that. Is that the problem? Glenn Loury: Well, I sense a contradiction
in our deliberations in that we observe there are large societal forces at work driving
divorce rates, driving sexual behavior, contraception, and all the rest. And yet we talk about tinkering with what
is, I don’t know, 1/50th, 1/200th of the federal budget, right, when we talk about
tinkering with welfare, as if that is going to somehow change these underlying societal
forces. And I doubt that. I don’t think the government is that powerful
either to cause or to reverse these societal trends. Moreover, even though I am an economist, when
I read, let’s say, the sociologist Elijah Anderson, who does ethnographic work in north
Philadelphia, interviewing and observing the behavior of youngsters there — when he talks
about the sexual behavior of those youngsters. And incentives of course, play a part in the
story. But they play the smallest part relative to,
oh, let’s say, how young men stand in their peer group in terms of their macho sexual
performance, how young women, in what Anderson calls the “baby club” of young women,
each of whom have had children, get together on the corner with their strollers, compare
their babies, go to the clothing stores in order to dress the babies up, and so forth. There are issues here about what gives people
meaning in their lives that are not susceptible to the calculated manipulation of computer
jockeys in terms of what the marginal incentives are going to be. Ben Wattenberg: So what do we do? Glenn Loury: When we laughed Dan Quayle off
the stage last year as the talking classes did when he said family values matter, and
there was all kinds of subterranean stuff going on. There was political stuff. “We can’t let him respond to LA by talking
about values. After all, we all know it’s poverty.” There was cultural stuff. “We can’t let this Indiana conservative
go around talking about family values when we all know that the Thomasons and company
behind the Clintons, the people who make the television shows and who are driving the elite
cultural dynamics in the society, know better than a know-nothing Indiana country boy.” When we did that, we gave evidence of the
fact that, as a society, we’re not really serious about doing anything about illegitimacy. We’re not even prepared to talk about the
moral and value questions in sanctioning and judgmental tones that convey a degree of consensus
in this society about what’s really important. Ben Wattenberg: All right, let’s get Roger
Wilkins in real trouble now. Do you agree with Dan Quayle? Roger Wilkins: I’ll really invite that lightning
and say that I agreed with almost everything that Glenn said. (Laughter.) I think that— Ben Wattenberg: One more neoconservative. (Laughter.) Roger Wilkins: I just think the idea of tinkering
with looking at this problem only in its manifestation as out-of-wedlock births is silly and that
tinkering with the welfare system is not going to fix it. I do agree with Glenn that the people on my
side of the political spectrum are fools to give up the values argument and the family
argument to the conservatives. That is ridiculous. You and I were, if not architects of the Great
Society, at least technicians at the creation, right, Ben? Ben Wattenberg: Brick masons. Roger Wilkins: Right. And I will tell you, I have never seen a social
program that can do for a kid what a relatively healthy functioning family can do. And I’m father of a 10-year-old. I mean, I speak from very serious daily experience. But I also believe that you cannot have families
without people who are connected to the economy. Black America has experienced unemployment
rates of over 10 percent for 19 out of the last 20 years. That is, black America has been in a depression
for the last two decades. Ben Wattenberg: But why would that cause greater
illegitimacy? Sheldon Danziger: Well, because in olden days,
way back when Roger was at Michigan, people got pregnant — Roger Wilkins: You got me. Sheldon Danziger: People got pregnant before
they got married, but then they tended to get married and the births were born after
they — Ben Wattenberg: Because the young woman’s
older brother came around with a shotgun to the perpetrator, as we used to say, and say,
“Hey, congratulations. You’re marrying my sister.” Sheldon Danziger: There was some of that. And there’s also because there were jobs. And another anthropologist, Mercer Sullivan,
shows this in some New York neighborhoods. In a white ethnic neighborhood, he shows there
are young men fathering children out of wedlock much to the same kind of behavior as in the
minority community. But when it happens in the white community,
the parents are able to get them jobs, and then they get married afterwards. Charles Murray: I don’t want to see us having
a false debate. I would say that if you take us all and put
us in a locked room with the television cameras off and we go over the relationship between
economic, unemployment rates, this, that, and the other thing, and out-of-wedlock births,
you will find there is some connection. It doesn’t explain a whole lot. And this is in the social science world an
issue in which there isn’t that much disagreement. Economy does not explain what’s happened
to out-of-wedlock birth rates. Could I just ask Roger — and I guess— Roger Wilkins: I agree to that. Charles Murray: Okay, we will agree to this. Ben Wattenberg: We’ve agreed on so much,
and I’m so delighted. But go ahead. Charles Murray: But I think Sheldon and I
sort of do represent, I think, a fundamental disagreement on this. Sheldon thinks that you can have carrots to
restore the black family or the white family. And I guess I’d put it more starkly. I’d say that with adolescents and sex and
babies, there has been one overriding thing which has preserved family life in created
families, and that is negative effects — penalties for engaging — Ben Wattenberg: Sticks, not carrots. Charles Murray: Sticks, not carrots — for
engaging in certain kinds of behavior. And I don’t see how we’re going to get
from here to there without restoring primarily sticks. Roger Wilkins: And I think that you are harking
back to sticks that were effective in a world that no longer exists. Glenn Loury: This cultural stuff, we talk
about it as if it’s out there. It’s like cosmic rays coming in from Mars. What can we do now that the orbit of Mars
has realigned itself so that it bombards us with television signals that pollute our values? It is not. As I recall the political decade of the 1980s,
it was not entirely, but substantially fought in terms of domestic politics around these
kind of issues. And Roger was on the other side of that debate. And when people stood up and said — we have
got to — in terms of our schools, what’s taught in our schools — when people in the
communities out there said, “What about the books that are coming in?” When we do Afro-centrism and we vet textbooks
for the images that they project of Native Americans in the 19th century, we’re not
bashful about bending the cultural milieu in order to reflect judgments that we think
are important to us politically. (Cross-talk.) Glenn Loury: Let me make my point. Roger Wilkins: (Inaudible.) Glenn Loury: Wait a minute, Roger. I haven’t — Roger Wilkins: I’d like to hear what your
evidence is — Glenn Loury: I’m saying not only was Dan
Quayle right, not only was Pat Robertson right, not only was Jerry Falwell right, but a lot
of the black ministers who were on the front line and who were trying to, against the political
tide, the tide that was represented in the Democratic National Convention in New York
City in 1992, the tide that motivates who gets appointed to important positions in the
government of the United States today, against the tide who determines what the surgeon general
says about condom use, about sexuality, what gets communicated through the various powerful
institutions of the society about homosexuality, about religion, about how we can’t have
anything to say about values or judgment of people when we come to doing the business
of state. My point is simply these things that we’re
talking about are not out there. They are a part of our politics. They are in play. If you want to be consistent, you’ve got
to follow that chain to the end of the line. Ben Wattenberg: Hang on a second. I want to — you will get plenty of chance
to come back to that. I want to move on right now to the second
part of our program. You know, the welfare problem is really two
problems. One is how to keep people from getting on
welfare in the first place. And second is: What about those Americans
who are already on welfare? During the presidential campaign, one of Bill
Clinton’s most popular promises was to, quote, “end welfare as we know it.” He renewed this pledge in his 1994 State of
the Union address. Bill Clinton (from videotape): People who
bring children into this world cannot and must not walk away from them. But to all those who depend on welfare, we
should offer ultimately a simple compact. We’ll provide the support, the job training,
the childcare you need for up to two years. But after that, anyone who can work, must;
in the private sector wherever possible; in community service if necessary. That’s the only way we’ll ever make welfare
what it ought to be — a second chance, not a way of life. Ben Wattenberg: That was the rallying cry:
two years and out. But out to what? Most experts think there aren’t enough private-sector
jobs for all the people on welfare. President Clinton says the government will
provide the needed jobs. But critics say that every government jobs
program ever tried has failed miserably. Is that true, Sheldon Danziger? Sheldon Danziger: No, I don’t think it’s
failed miserably. Ben Wattenberg: What’s a jobs program that’s
worked? Sheldon Danziger: Well, I think there was
a lot of public works and public buildings built during the Great Depression that are
still around, post offices and highways and bridges. Roger Wilkins: And parks. Sheldon Danziger: And parks. I think we had trouble with public employment
in — Ben Wattenberg: Let me rephrase my question. What, in the last — since World War II? Sheldon Danziger: Well, I don’t — Ben Wattenberg: We’re talking about a different
era and a different age. The Great Depression, you had 25 percent unemployment. You had middle-class unemployment. It was a pretty different era. What since World War II as a federal or state
jobs program has worked? Roger Wilkins: I’ll tell you, a lot of city
budgeteers in the ’60s, a lot of people who ran cities in the ’60s, would tell you
that CETA worked for them. It worked to give them workers. Ben Wattenberg: CETA is the — Roger Wilkins: Comprehensive Employment and
Training Act. It worked for them in the cities, and it also
worked for them in putting people into the agencies and getting them into jobs. So I don’t think you can say that jobs programs
don’t work. Charles Murray: Again, there have been a lot
of evaluations of CETA, and I think the consensus among everybody who’s looked at it is, yeah,
there were some effects on women — not big ones, but some. And when you look at the men and try to figure
out some way in which CETA affected unemployment among those guys, there’s just no evidence
it did any good. Ben Wattenberg: We were talking about carrots
and sticks before. We have a welfare program now that gives out
carrots in the form of money, housing, food, and medicine. Isn’t there a risk that when you say, “Hey,
if you go on welfare, after two years we are also going to give you a job?” Can this be — can this Clinton jobs-related,
workfare-related program be one more incentive? Sheldon Danziger: No, I think that’s right. You have to avoid this being, quote, “a
good job.” It can’t be a good job. It has to be — Ben Wattenberg: So we want to create bad jobs. Sheldon Danziger: No, it has to be a job of
last resort. Ben Wattenberg: Suppose, after the two years,
you don’t go to work. What happens? What do you cut off? Sheldon Danziger: Well, I think then it’s
different. If there is a job opportunity of a last resort
— Ben Wattenberg: Right, a janitor’s job — Sheldon Danziger: Right. Ben Wattenberg: In a YMCA and he says, “That’s
work. I’m not going to do that.” Sheldon Danziger: Well, in that case, I think
then you have to consider cutting off the cash. I agree with you on that. Ben Wattenberg: Cutting off the cash? Sheldon Danziger: Cutting off the cash. Ben Wattenberg: The mother and the children? Sheldon Danziger: Well, you have to have a
strong disincentive. You can’t have people doing it. And then the issue, as I think Charles is
“sink or swim,” Glenn is “cut off the oxygen.” I feel uncomfortable because I worry about
those kids. Charles Murray: Sheldon has just told us exactly
what’s going to happen with the Clinton welfare plan or the Republican one, which
is it is going to — as time goes on and you get closer to this cliff and anybody’s
in danger of falling off the cliff, Glenn Loury’s dilemma comes into play. And I don’t think we’re going to get — Ben Wattenberg: Restate the Loury dilemma. Charles Murray: The Loury dilemma is you don’t
want to encourage the behavior. You don’t want to see those kids starving
in the streets. And so what are you going to do? Anything that works in the sense of restoring
the family is going to cause some suffering. And if you don’t — if you aren’t willing
to say that and accept that, you’re not going to get anywhere. Roger Wilkins: And that really divides the
line between this side and his — Ben Wattenberg: Wait a minute — Roger Wilkins: Because he says there is a
massive problem that threatens the very fabric of our society. He might even say that it’s the national
security problem of the ’90s and the beginning of the next. I say I agree with that. And if we have a problem of that massive proportion,
then what are we going to do? Are we going to say we will punish people
until they just knock it off, or will we say we do understand that work is good for people
and good for families? So we’re going to have a job program that
sops up welfare people and other people who need jobs, and we’re going to put them to
work because we believe that is good for family formation. Ben Wattenberg: You get the last crack at
it. Glenn Loury: Yeah, we’re talking about something
important. I, you know, put in my word for culture. I think we have all agreed, to a greater extent
than I would have anticipated, that questions of values are important. I think we disagree about what, if anything,
can be done about them. I want to reiterate my point that when we
talk about values, that’s part of our general political culture in this country. It’s politics. It’s not just something that comes down
from outer space. And we can do more than we have done to promote
the traditional family. Ben Wattenberg: Okay, thank you, Dr. Murray
and Professors Loury, Wilkins, and Danziger. Until next time for “Think Tank,” I’m
Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
Inc. in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.

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14 thoughts on “Does welfare cause illegitimacy? — with Charles Murray (1994) | THINK TANK

  1. Things need to be freed up and people need to be given opportunities. If anyone was actually serious about solving these issues they would implement changes in the law to reflect this. Doing so we could make small business owners a powerhouse to be reckoned with and provide jobs to everyone who is willing to work.

  2. At the end of the video they talk about employment and how we need people employed to stay off welfare. I say get rid of minim wage, get rid of long lasting copyright laws and get by doing this you can now afford to get rid of welfare.

  3. The fact that we are still talking about this issue and it has only gotten worse with time, signifies to me no one is willing to actually put the much needed actions into motion to deter such wrongs from occurring in the future. People may have been more polite in the past, but to what resolve. Government is as useless now as is was then.

  4. We had this information then. Now look at us. No one took this seriously, hence the problem has only continued to get worse.
    Who is at fault?

  5. Feminism, the sacred cow and trojan horse of modern communism, drove this disaster. Easy divorce and causing women to metaphorically marry and rely in every respect except sexual on ther government.

  6. "Does corporate welfare cause illegitimacy?"
    Yes, of course it does. The corporate state in the US alone funnels well over $2 trillion a year to corporations, money that should be going to paying people a living wage, granting them free public college, paying for public elections and guaranteeing their freedom from the corruption of money…

    Instead we have a nation wholly owned by a small handful. The Gilens-Page study has shown that average Americans have had zero say in their own politics for at least 25 years.

  7. I am not sure I understand what is going on here. It kinda looks like Liberals and Conservatives talking politely. Is this fake?

  8. Douglas & Glenn on one team. Still fighting the good fight today.

    Thank you for your.courage and commitment gentlemen.

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