December 31, 2013

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Why Obama frets about income inequality, not family breakdown.

How many times in such an important speech did Obama mention anything about American family breakdown perhaps impeding economic mobility? Just a couple of passing references.

Yet the issue of family breakdown deserves at least as much attention, if not more, from Obama than income inequality. Using data on local jobs markets from the Equality of Opportunity Project, e21 economist Scott Winship can’t find much of a statistical relationship between inequality – particularly of the 1% vs. 99% sort — and economic mobility. The EOP authors also find “a high concentration of income in the top 1% was not highly correlated with mobility patterns.”

What does seem to be highly correlated with mobility is family structure. In these communities, the share of families with single moms predicts mobility levels “quite well all by itself,” according to Winship’s analysis. Again, this result is not real surprising. Researchers on the left and right have found that kids raised by both biological parents fare better financially, educationally, and emotionally. And as the EOP scholars conclude: “Some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family structure.”

A cynic might suggest emphasizing family dysfunction, particularly among those without a college or high school diploma, doesn’t fit into the Democrats narrative as neatly as blaming Republicans for slashing taxes and weakening labor unions – both of which Obama mentioned in that speech.

Where Obama’s concerned, the cynics are usually the ones to listen to. They have a pretty good track record by this point. . . .