Nearly five decades later: “The Moynihan Report Revisited”

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report for the U.S. Department of Labor, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” provoked a firestorm of debate in its probing of the roots of black poverty and the decline of the black nuclear family.

Nearly five decades later, “The Moynihan Report Revisited,” from the Urban Institute and Fathers Incorporated, gauges how the circumstances of black families have changed and how they compare with other racial and ethnic groups; documents how blacks still suffer from intersecting disadvantages that Moynihan referred to as a “tangle of pathologies”; and suggests ways to improve the circumstances of black families and reduce racial disparities.

Among the findings in “The Moynihan Report Revisited”:

•  The statistics that so alarmed Moynihan have only grown worse, not only for blacks, but for whites and Hispanics as well. Today, the share of white children born outside of marriage is about the same as the share was for black children in Moynihan’s day. Meanwhile, the percentage of black children born to unmarried mothers has tripled, remaining far higher than the percentage of white children born to unmarried mothers.

•  In 1960, 20 percent of black children lived with their mothers but not their fathers; by 2010, 53 percent of all black children lived in such families. The share of white children living with their mothers but not their fathers climbed to 20 percent in 2010, up from 6 percent in 1960.

•  There has been a marked retreat from marriage. In 1960, just over one-half of all black women were married and living with their husbands, compared with over two-thirds of white and Hispanic women. By 2010, only one-quarter of black women, two-fifths of Hispanic women, and one-half of white women lived with their spouses.

•  That the decline of traditional families occurred across racial and ethnic groups indicates that factors driving the decline do not lie solely within the black community but in the larger social and economic context. Nevertheless, the consequences may be felt disproportionately among blacks as black children are far more likely to be born into and raised in father-absent families than are white children.

“Reducing the structural barriers to black economic progress, enhancing the incentives to work in the mainstream economy, and improving family dynamics are all important components for reducing racial and ethnic disparities. Addressing those diverse barriers will require concerted governmental, community, and family engagement,” said Gregory Acs, the lead author of “The Moynihan Report Revisited” and director of the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center.

“It’s such a timely moment to consider in greater depth the economic conditions of black families. These families have always been on the lower rungs of the social and economic ladders. Hopefully, this report will set a new foundation for addressing the circumstances of these and other families in America,” said Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated (FI)

As a collaborator, Braswell contributed to the paper along with the Urban Institute’s Margery Austin Turner and former Urban Institute researcher Elaine Sorensen.

“The Moynihan Report Revisited” was funded by the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens’ understanding of the issues and trade-offs that policymakers face.

Fathers Incorporated (FI) is a national not-for-profit organization based in New York that is committed to eliminating fatherlessness and increasing the commitment of men to become mentors. FI is the contractor for the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.