What’s So Bad About ‘Mr. Mom’ Dads?
| RealClearMarkets |
Problem 1: Children who lose contact with their fathers do worse in life.Problem 2: Single mothers who want to work often struggle with the cost of childcare.Problem 3: Many non-resident fathers are without meaningful work.
All three of these problems are fairly well established in the research literature. Each also motivates a battery of policy responses, with varying degrees of efficacy. In a recent report on poverty and opportunity from a working group convened by Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, non-resident fathers received some special attention. (I was a member of the group).
The report notes that the Child Support Enforcement Program has become increasingly effective at establishing paternity and levying child support payments. Good: parenting is a responsibility, regardless of the nature of the relationship into which a child is born. But the payments can also be onerous for non-resident parents, who are almost always fathers, ‘functioning as a tax on their earnings’. The accumulation of child support debt is a particular problem – non-resident parents are currently about $53 billion in arrears for child support – and the Brookings/AEI group suggested that these kinds of debts should be forgiven in certain circumstances.
“Failing to expect both parents to support their children is not only unfair, it reduces marriage incentives, increases poverty rates for custodial mothers and children, and is likely to hurt children,” the report concludes. But we should not make the mistake of assuming that support can only come in the form of cash.
Since most non-resident parents are fathers, there is a tendency for policy-makers to see them primarily in terms of their financial obligations, as walking ATMs. Many of these men are in no position to make serious financial contributions: 41 percent of poor non-resident fathers have been out of paid work for at least a year, according to a recent study conducted by the Urban Institute. Meanwhile, working single mothers are also struggling. Forty percent of those working said that child care costs led them to change jobs or hours worked, according to a recent survey.