USA: Unraveling Social Contract disguised as "family values"

Tom Boland (
Mon, 22 Mar 1999 20:59:12 -0800 (PST)

FWD  People's Tribune/Tribuno del Pueblo (Online Edition)
                   Vol. 26 No. 3/ March, 1999

[excerpted article]


By Kay Forest, Ph.D.

It's been two decades since conservatives introduced their moral
crusade for "family values." Yet today we can hardly applaud the
state of the family in the U.S. unless it is to remark on the
amazing ability of millions of women, men and children to carry on
despite the unraveling of our social contract.

Much of family-values rhetoric focuses on education and marriage
as the keys to a successful family life. True, many high-school
dropouts and single mothers are poor.   But this is only part of
the picture.   An obsession with individual behavior obscures the
inadequacies of the larger social structure, even when families
are working hard to play by the rules. Take the example of wages.

Wages and salaries constitute 90 percent of all family income.
But in the 1970s, men's real wages began to fall.   Many fathers
found themselves underemployed or flat out of work, while more
mothers began to work or to work longer hours.  The net result,
however, was that family income inequality increased.

Between 1980 and 1997, the top fifth of families saw income growth
from $55,000 to $137,080; the middle fifth increased from $24,800
to $53,616; while the bottom fifth only grew from $10,400 to
$20,586. By 1997, almost 16 percent of families with children
lived below the poverty threshold. Almost half of these included
married parents. Forty percent of all families lived at or below
220 percent of the poverty threshold, in the ranks of the working

How could this be?  Job creation averages 270,000 a month!
Unemployment is 4.3 percent! Yet two-thirds of new jobs are in the
lowest-paid service-sector.   Unemployment is unevenly
distributed, with some states' county rates in double-digits. And
last year, the Senate defeated a minimum-wage increase, although
the current minimum earns a full-time dual-earner family $21,400
before taxes. Yes, 27 percent of job growth is in the high-paying
professional specialities; but these jobs require at least a
bachelor's degree, an opportunity shared by less than one-in-four

During this era of job loss and shrinking wages, divorce rates and
family violence have also galloped forward. Persistent financial
strain is a major source of family dissolution as well as woman
and child battering and increased substance abuse. And for some,
these contribute to homelessness.

In the early 1990s, approximately 3 million families doubled up
and another 14 million paid half or more of their monthly income
for rent -- the edge of homelessness. The proportion of Americans
who are actually homeless is the highest since the Great
Depression.  Almost half of homeless mothers have histories of
domestic violence.   Moreover, in 1998 the U.S. Conference of
Mayors found that new welfare cuts are linked to a significant
rise in hungry and homeless families, many with young children at
risk of malnutrition, physical abuse and emotional neglect.
Children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless

Is there good news?  Well, millions of women, men and children
carry on despite the unraveling of our social contract. But these
trends cannot continue indefinitely without ultimately eroding
their resiliency. And they are us.

[Dr. Kay Forest is a professor of sociology who specializes in
marriage and the family.]


/** headlines: 153.0 **/
** Topic: USA: Unraveling Social Contract **
** Written 10:18 PM  Mar  5, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 7:01 PM  Mar  4, 1999 by in peoplestrib */
/* ---------- "03-99 Two decades of "family values" ---------- */

This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE/TRIBUNO DEL PUEBLO
(Online Edition), Vol. 26 No. 3/ March, 1999; P.O. Box 3524,
Chicago, IL 60654; Email:;
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** End of text from cdp:headlines **

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