June 20, 2009: President Barack Obama, at the White House, addressed the nation on his views of fatherhood. It was concise, informative, and convincing. The presentation is available on YouTube. Ten minutes of your time is all it will take. 

His message: Children growing up in a family without the father potentially results in many negative outcomes. Such children are more likely to drop out of school, be a victim of substance abuse, serve time in prison or suffer abuse at home. Girls are more likely to give birth to a child as an unmarried mother.

There are many reasons for the absence of a father in a home with children. Deaths, divorces and separations including incarceration do happen and these incidents have significant implications for the affected families. In cases where the father is no longer living in the home of his children, a plethora of laws and regulations frequently limit and even possibly prevent his involvement in the lives of his children. Such barriers often prove costly to resolve. Solutions may require lawyers and court actions as well as interfere with work and other important life events and schedules for both father and mother. These barriers therefore reduce the potential frequency and length of time available for interaction between a father and his child/children. 

A concurrent reality impacting our nation is the steady increase of the number of births to unmarried women. The statistics speak for themselves. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2022, there were 15,040,000 households headed by a “Female Householder, No Spouse Present.” In 1965 there were 4,992,000 such households. In this 57-year period, the proportion of single mother households in America increased from ten percent to eighteen percent. 

“No spouse present” means that no father was reported at home in all these millions of households, most of which had children present. Coincidentally, our nation’s War on Poverty began in the mid-1960s and, over time, provided trillions of dollars to fight poverty with the hope of preserving the traditional family. The Poverty War has still not been won. 

Recognizing these problems related to the absence of fathers in the homes of their children, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor took action in November 2022. Public Law 1747, No. 114 was passed and signed into law. The law’s title: “Greater Father Involvement Act.” A finding in the law states that, “When a child has the benefit of access to both parents, the child is more likely to exhibit healthy behaviors, excel in school and achieve emotional well-being.” Another finding recognized that “approximately 24,000,000 of the nation’s children (were) being raised in single-parent households, some without access to their fathers and their emotional and financial support.” 

A committee was appointed as part of the law and a report of its work has been submitted to the Governor and General Assembly. The major recommendation of the Committee is that a permanent Commission be created to effectively carry-out the multiple purposes of the Act. In addition, recommendations were made addressing barriers to father involvement across various areas of daily living. This is a very good start to a major issue affecting a large number of Pennsylvanians. I am privileged to have been a member of this important committee. I sincerely hope that a permanent Commission is created. 

I must address one more very critical issue. Unbelievably, there is strong resistance to including and emphasizing the role of fathers in their children’s lives. I have been told by a leader of a poverty fighting organization that supporting marriage and describing the important role of fathers in preventing poverty is “judgmental” and that suggesting such support has no place in the anti-poverty movement. 

Another example is found in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that has made public its desire to change our concept of the make-up of a family. In 2020, the Washington Examiner reported that BLM published the following: “We disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.” NOTE: No mention of biological fathers. 

Even more shocking is the fact that the quotation in the previous paragraph also appears as Principle 11 in the Black Lives Matter “13 Guiding Principles.” These Principles were intended to be utilized as a teaching aid during the “Black Lives Matter School Week of Action, Jan 31 – Feb 4, 2022! The national BLM movement and the principles can be examined at www.blacklivesmatteratschool.com. 

In the meantime, the overall problem grows. The American Journal of Sociology carried an article titled, “Rethinking the Risks of Poverty: A Framework for Analyzing Prevalences and Penalties.” The authors state that in America, of young women, “Those who do not graduate from high school, do not wait until marriage to have children, do not wait until 25 to head a household, and do not work will be likely to be poor.” The absence of the father at birth is clearly part of this researched poverty prediction. 

The United Way of Pennsylvania studies poverty in the Commonwealth and provides a statistical report each year. Their latest report emphasizes the use of “ALICE,” a statistical analysis process used to identify a family/household that is “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, (and) Employed.” These families/households earn above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) but (still) cannot afford the basic cost of living in their county.” 

The report revealed that In 2021, in Pennsylvania:

  • 14 percent of “Married with Children” households were below the ALICE Threshold (121,644 households)
  • 53 percent of the “Single-Male-Headed with Children” households were below the ALICE Threshold (60,511 households)
  • 75 percent of “Single-Female-Headed with Children” households were below the ALICE Threshold (223,733 households)

A clear conclusion from the numbers is that of households with children with below ALICE income, the majority are headed by a female as a single parent. Also, in Pennsylvania, according to the Communicable Disease Center (CDC), in 2021, 39.7 percent of all births were to unmarried women. 

These numbers are not going down.

Stuart Wesbury, a professor emeritus in Arizona State University’s School of Health Administration and Policy, is a resident of Willow Street, Pennsylvania. He has a Ph.D. in economics and business administration. He is a former community member of the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board.

4 thoughts on “Stu Wesbury: Disappearing fathers – a destructive American reality”

  1. Stu Wesbury: Disappearing fathers – a destructive American reality

    Thank you Stu,
    Enough cannot be said on this cultural tragedy. I concur will every point and would like to add just one more. Father’s abortion rights. I have had male friends who have sought to not have their child’s life terminated to no avail. It marks them for life. Most relationships fail after an abortion when the trust in a man’s desire for fatherhood is thwarted and denied. Years later, in one case I know in particular, the young man who =incidentally was a child of rape whose mother carried to full term, is now married to a woman and they are desperately trying to have a child to no avail. It only brings back memories of the lost child that both he and his mother would have welcomed into his family.

  2. There is nothing wrong with being judgemental and it’s time we got over the foolishness of offering opinions containing value and substance. I’ve come to learn that those who get into a snit, in regard to the essential quality elements of statistical realities and standards, are those with the weakest arguments if they have any at all. At it’s core it’s anti-intellectual which encourages the preference of feelings over facts, which generally lead to poor decision helping no one.

    Finally, advising others that they shouldn’t be judgemental is, indeed, making a judgement.

  3. No matter what you think of Obama’s policies, I have to admit, that it’s nice to hear a presidential voice again. It’s the voice that says, “Ask not what your country…” It’s the voice that says, “Tear down this wall.” It’s the voice that says, “”I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you…and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” It’s the voice that says, “To those who would tear this world down: We will defeat you.” I’ve missed that voice for the last eight years. It’s almost like that father’s voice that after supper said, “I need to talk to you.”

  4. “I have been told by a leader of a poverty fighting organization”. If you can’t say who it is and the name of the organization then how check to see what this organizations actual agenda is.

    ““We disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.” In many countries that are not part of the West, African countries were just one of many nations in the world that before they were contaminated by Western culture the entire community was part of raising children.

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