In her book The Missing Middle, Theda Skocpol focuses on the idea of middle-class America being left out of the benefits of many social policies instilled by the government. To illustrate her point, Skocpol argues topics relevant to different groups of Americans such as the elderly and children. She emphasizes the idea that the United States government once implemented social policies that worked, but as years have past, the government has strayed away from these ideas.
In chapter four of the book, the author focuses her attention to the children of America and the issue of poverty among this group. To start off, Skocpol points out the roles played by American businesses and politicians in the fight to end child poverty in this country. The point is argued that while these people of often talk a good talk about fighting the battle of child poverty, they rarely follow through with what they initially say they are going to do.
Further on in the chapter, to prove how astounding the poverty level among children is in the U.S., Skocpol included results from the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). The LIS compared the economic situation of children across eighteen advanced industrial countries “fourteen European nations, plus Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United States” for the 1980’s and 1990’s. The study showed that over one-fifth (21.5 percent) of U.S. children are poor, whereas child-poverty rates are under 10 percent in all European nations except Ireland. As for other Western nations with child-poverty rates above 10 percent, the rates are about 11 percent for Israel and 14 percent for Australia. To sum things up, the United States has more poor children than other Western nations, no matter how economically strong or weak those sister countries may be.
After illustrating that there is indeed a huge rate of child poverty in the United States, Skocpol goes on to explain possible reasons for this. One reason included is the lack of public support of both working and nonworking parents in the United States. Other nations provide greater support for these families. American children do not reap the benefits of generous help from the government. To further the issue, Skocpol describes the feeling of resentment that many Americans of modest means feel against the very poor who are often the only group helped by the government. Hard working parents in economically tight circumstances may feel that they and their own children suffer a lot of the same deprivations and constraints that are often set aside for the very poor. Skocpol states that people may suspect that talk about “helping children” is really a cover for liberal efforts to protect or expand partial welfare programs.
A second reason for the high poverty rate, as explained by Skocpol, stems from an argument by George Gilder. He states that the chief cause of black poverty is welfare state feminism. He goes on to say that the failure of the socialization of young men through marriage is the root of poverty. A similar argument from Charles Murray of the Manhattan Institute blames the situation of poverty on mother-only families. He states that these families breed poverty, crime, and societal disintegration. On the other end of the spectrum, a less extreme idea for the poverty in the United States comes from Ben Wattenberg. He states in his book Values Matter Most, that family breakup is a very big reason why poverty rates aren’t falling, stalled between roughly 12 and 15 percent for almost thirty years. Statistical data from Wattenberg proves this idea to be relevant. In 1993, married-couple families with children under age eighteen had a poverty rate of 9 percent. Families with a female head, no husband present, with children under age eighteen, had a poverty rate of 46 percent. The median income of a husband-wife family with children under age eighteen in 1993 was $45,548, while the median income for female-headed families was only $13,472. Furthermore, the rate of single parenthood in the United States substantially exceeds that in all other nations. Studies show that 23 percent of U.S. children live in single parent families, while proportion ranges from 11 to 17 percent in other Western democracies and is only 6 percent in Japan.
Skocpol goes on to explain the consequences for children who grow up in families absent of two parents. The main area of difficulty for these children with one parent is economic. In 1991, 39 percent of divorced women with children lived in poverty, and 55 percent of those children under six years of age were poor.
It is later illustrated that children of single families are deprived of more than economical means. McLanahan and Sandefur concluded from their research that children from disrupted families are more likely to drop out of school, get bad grads, become delinquent, or become pregnant as teenagers. These children are also deprived of the support and supervision from adults that children of two-parent families often receive. Also, these children often are forced to change residences or communities and renegotiate significant human ties.
Throughout the chapter, Theda Skocpol touches on the aspect that conservatives and liberals focus too much attention on very poor single families. She states that this focus has taken the attention away from what is going o with the bulk of American families with children, those who are neither extremely poor nor in the top fifth of income earners. The fact that this issue exists is unfortunate even for the very poor, because economic possibilities and cultural standards for the very poor are profoundly influenced by what happens to those just above them in the class structure.