Incentives and Disincentives to Marriage and Children

Marriage is the foundation of society.  This statement is self-evident truth, yet for all the issues related to feminism that are destroying the middle class institution of marriage, we observe a completely different dynamic among the poor.  Beginning with the Great Society programs, welfare incentives were arranged in such a way as to penalize married families and reward single mothers.  Again, this has been proven time and time again.

I recently spent some time in Ensley Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.  Ensley is among the least integrated neighborhoods in the United States and has been the victim of policies aimed at destroying the family for generations.  It presents a panoply of social pathologies wrapped within the ‘new dynamic’ of multi-generational welfare recipients.  While white, middle-aged, middle-class women might ask where the men are, there is no need to ask where the men are in Ensley- many are either dead or in prison, many are on probation or parole and headed back to prison, and anyone who can escape ‘the hood’ does so.  Where are the men?  Gone.

The familial dynamics are controlled by the grannies.  These are the women who typically raised their grandchildren and having reached an age at which they can collect a check every month, they represent the largest reservoir of stable income in the community.  The power they wield through their home-ownership and income is considerable, thus the local community has a distinctly matriarchal tone to it.   Worship services in the churches are dominated by women and the men present tend to all be married and rather quiet.

Raised in a middle-class ethos as I was, I was ill-prepared for the reality of tax-time.  In my world, a tax refund was the excess of earned income withheld over actual tax due that was refunded after filing a tax return.  Not in Ensley.  In Ensley, every person receives a tax return of between $1000 and $2000.  Every dependent child is worth $2000.  Fly-by-night tax preparation businesses prepare the returns for individuals, often keeping a significant portion of the refund and never showing the filer the 1040 that was filed.  In January and February, they party like rock-stars on the tax refund money.

Jobs are few and far between, but even so employers find it difficult to find qualified applicants who are willing to show up for work.  Underground employment and business is booming, but profits are low.  Prostitution is endemic, but prices on the street range from $5 for a blow-job to $20 for someone to come by and scratch the itch for an hour or so.  Of course, one gets what one pays for.  STD infested deranged crack-whores.  Drug dealers abound, crime is rampant and nothing is safe.  Well, perhaps that’s changing though.

Several years ago, the City of Birmingham (recently the subject of the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States- so far) installed acoustic sensors that detect and triangulate the location of gunshots.  The system is pretty neat, because it determines whether the weapon was a pistol, rifle or shotgun; and it triangulates the location to within a dozen feet or so and directs a message to the nearest patrol car with mapping information within seconds of the shot being fired.  After installing the sensors, the police department spent a period of time calibrating the system.  Police went to various places in the city and fired weapons.  The first interesting data point was less than 30% of the shots they fired were reported.  I mean- really.  Who reports gunfire in Birmingham, Alabama?  Perhaps it gets reported in Vestavia Hills or Mountainbrook (affluent, mostly white neighborhoods) but in Ensley, what’s the point?   Several years ago I recall visiting Ensley and sitting on the front porch in the evening listening to the gunfire.  A single incident might be two people each burning off half a magazine from a Glock or some other high-capacity pistol at each other.  Fifteen to twenty rounds fired within as many seconds.  On a Friday night it wasn’t unusual to hear this kind of exchange four or five times over the course of the evening.  That was then, though.

After calibrating the system and testing it for months, the police knew where most of the gunfire occurred.  When they went live they put a lot of manpower in those areas.  When someone fired a weapon they were triangulated and the information sent to the nearest officer’s in-car computer within seconds.  The police arrived with individuals still shooting at each other or standing around with guns still smoking.  Since most of the shooters were either on probation or parole, they were immediately slam-dunked.  Within months a significant number of the bad guys were taken off the streets.  I can attest to the fact that on my recent visit, in sharp contrast to my visit two years ago, it was unusual to hear any gunshots at all, although it did happen every few days.

The primary difference I saw between 2010 and 2013 is the sharp rise in young mothers walking the streets, which have obviously become safer.  The power of the grannies has grown with fewer thugs on the street, but economic interests have caused somewhat of a baby-boom.  I met multiple young women who were kicked out of their home at or after age 17 because they were no longer dependents and therefore no welfare money could be collected for them.  In other words, their welfare-system utility had just vanished and they were liabilities.  It was time for them to put the baby-maker in motion, because after all, having a baby means somebody has to pay, even if you take it to the extreme of having 15 kids.  Everybody in the hood knows that.  The interesting thing is that I can think of another mom with more than 15 kids, but she has a different setup that pays for the kids in a completely different way.

How does one create an incentive that rewards intact families in this entitlement environment?  Actually, this might not be that difficult.  First, give priority to married, cohabitating families in public housing and section 8 rent assistance, followed by widows.  These are not people who have a lot of assets, so this isn’t a case of Shamiqua getting cash and prizes if when she divorces Deshawn.  In fact, it would carry a significant disincentive to divorce because not being married means kissing the Section 8 voucher or project apartment goodbye.

This alone would fundamentally alter things for the urban black community.  The next big issue is the money.   As I pointed out in this post, unwed and divorced mothers are increasingly supported by their surrogate husband, the State.  With the economy further and further in decline, it seems like a no-brainer to phase out the payments.  People respond to incentives.

That brings us back to a central problem in the urban black community:  the lack of men.  Given that situation, there is a solution and it is arguably one that particular community is somewhat comfortable with: polygyny.  It brings Isaiah 4:1 to mind.  From what I’ve seen in the hood, there are plenty of men willing to wife up 4 or 5 women and in fact, I could point to numerous examples of guys who keep a “roster” and are servicing 3 to 6 different women at any given time.  Make it official, remove the incentives for single mothers and reward married families regardless of their structure.

The tradcons will scream that the taxpayers will be footing the bill.  Right.  Like the taxpayers aren’t already footing the bill.  The churches, completely dominated by women, are opposed to polygyny.  However, the churches have the most to gain if they’d ever study their Bibles and reach the same conclusion that Martin Luther did:  polygyny is neither prohibited nor is it condemned anywhere in Scripture and it is a legitimate form of Biblical marriage.

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