Before Going Neolithic on Unwed Moms, Bush Could Bone Up on Economic Reality
FlaglerLive | August 17, 2015
By Julie Delegal
As former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush abandons his Paleolithic diet by eating a fried Snickers bar in Iowa, feminists everywhere wish he’d abandon his stone-age ideology, too. Bush wants to “publicly shame” mothers who give birth out of wedlock, arguing that the lack of stigma is what causes illegitimate births.
With apologies to Sam Cooke, it would appear that Bush “don’t know much biology.” Stigma doesn’t cause unwed births. And women don’t get pregnant by themselves.
The hullabaloo around Bush’s attitudes toward women center on his 1995 book, Profiles in Character. To his credit, one offending paragraph in his chapter on shame does mention the role of men in unwed births.
But the “historical roots” of shame that Bush would return to — the kind we all read about in high school in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter — puts the onus squarely on women. Bush has observed, correctly, that there is much less stigma today than there was in 1850, Hawthorne’s time, or even 1950.
The decline in stigma may have more to do with protecting children than with exalting unwed mothers, however. How do you stigmatize an unwed pregnancy without hurting the ultimate product of that pregnancy?
The fact that stigma has declined, however, cannot be conflated with the motivation for young parents’ to raise their children outside of marriage.
Here’s what conservatives like Bush don’t want to acknowledge: Marriage rates are inextricably linked to America’s economy.
Professor Andrew Cherlin teaches sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, and has written a book called The Marriage-Go-Round. In a column he published in 2013 in The New York Times, Cherlin argues that college-educated, employed, affluent people marry young, while non-college-educated people postpone nuptials, viewing marriage more as a sign that they’ve “made it” than as a prerequisite for child-rearing.
Cherlin links the decline of marriage to what he calls the “hollowing out of the middle of the American economy.” Fewer well-paying jobs exist now for non-college-educated young people starting out, Cherlin argues, because of two big economic trends: automation and overseas outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.
And the decline of economic prospects, especially for men, is the primary reason many women are choosing to have children without marrying their babies’ fathers, University of Minnesota law professor June Carbone, co-author of Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family, told The New York Times.
Recent economic trends are not abating any time soon. In the current edition of The Atlantic Monthly, senior editor Derek Thompson takes a look at some possible futures for the American economy, a “post-work” economy. In his piece, “A World Without Work,” Thompson observes that one out of six working-age men are either unemployed or are completely out of the workforce. He cites the 30 percent fall of manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years as a big reason for so many nonworking American men. Like Cherlin, Thompson blames both technology — software replacing humans — and overseas outsourcing for the decline.
In light of these economic sea-changes, Thompson writes that governments may do better to readjust their roles as a “visible hand” in economic intervention. He calls for the creation of community centers in distressed urban areas that were once centers for manufacturing, and points to successful artisan-based “makerspaces” like the Columbus Ohio Idea Foundry. Germany’s approach to job-sharing might also be instructive, he contends.
Also on Thompson’s list of possibilities is overhauling our tax structure. Currently, most “growth” in income is going to the rich, or owners of capital. If capital owners were taxed more heavily, proceeds might be used to fund a “universal basic income.” It’s an idea that, Thompson writes, was once supported by Bush’s free-market and charter-school-advocating comrade, Milton Friedman. But it’s no replacement for the satisfaction of work.
Alternately, a program to revitalize America’s infrastructure, its schools, and its cultural heritage, along the lines of Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, could restore work for marriage-age young people, college-educated or not.
Jeb Bush’s “stigma” argument as the explanation for the decline in marriage and the accompanying rise in illegitimate births ignores what’s happening on the ground for Americans: They want nothing more than to work for their piece of the American dream.
Rather than spending their energy plastering The Scarlet Letter on America’s unwed mothers, Bush and his cohorts would do better to talk about how to revitalize our forever-changed economy.
Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville.