It has been reported recently that the poverty rate among Latinos has reached 28 percent.
The number, based on a new poverty measure by the Obama Administration, should be interpreted with caution, as explained here and here. However, the overall point that more American Latino families, and Americans in general, are struggling to achieve self-sufficiency is troubling.
What’s not mentioned in news reports, however, is the greatest driver of child poverty in the U.S. today: unwed childbearing. Among Latinos, unmarried parent families are roughly three times as likely to be poor as married families. Tragically, over half of Latino children born today are born outside of marriage. The rate has increased from less than 40 percent in the 1990s to more than half—nearly 53 percent—today.
These facts are rarely mentioned, and few attempts made to address the matter. Instead, big government proponents clamor that the antidote to poverty is greater government welfare spending. Unfortunately, these programs do not help people overcome poverty. Today, the U.S. spends roughly five times the amount necessary to pull every poor person out of poverty, and welfare is the fastest-growing part of government spending, exceeding even the cost of defense spending. However, poverty rates have not declined.
While welfare can provide temporary relief to those who have no other options, the vast majority of welfare programs are based on promoting government dependence rather than self-reliance. To pave the way to upward mobility, anti-poverty efforts should address the causes of poverty, such as family breakdown, not simply transfer material goods. Institutions of civil society—faith-based and community-based—are better suited to address the complexities of poverty, having a greater ability to reach individuals on a personal level.
Pastor Shirley Holloway, founder of the House of Help, City of Hope, is one grassroots leader who has been involved in helping those in need build healthy marriages. She works with individuals whose lives have been harmed by drug addiction, alcoholism, and other similar problems. Her program has had 100 marriages, 97 of which remain intact today.
“Success comes from continued, consistent focus in the right direction,” says Holloway. “There are couples who came in homeless who are now homeowners.”
Helping the poor—among Latinos and all Americans—means addressing poverty’s complex causes, marriage and family breakdown among the highest on the list. Policies that promote strong families and allow the work of civil society’s institutions to function can enhance the opportunity of prosperity for all Americans.