OPINION: Eliminating the root cause of Baltimore and Maryland violence and demoralization: Fatherlessness

By Tyrone Keys and Richard E. Vatz

Maryland and Baltimore have a terrible problem of violence and intimidation, and their root cause is not drugs, police corruption and incompetence or poverty.

All of these are problematic, but none of them constitutes something that can be mostly removed, or even majorly alleviated.  The key to identifying a root cause is that its solution leads to the elimination of the outcomes for which the cause is sought.  Otherwise, the efforts to pacify dangerous cities are just one dispiriting, depressing game of whack-a-mole.

The root cause of the murder, assaults, bullying, and intimidation that now defines Baltimore and most of Maryland is fatherlessness.  You could put a major dent in drug trafficking, police misconduct and misbehavior and poverty — none of which is likely — and all you would do is somewhat lessen the numbers of illegal acts and slightly improve the quality of life.

Examining the data

The problems root-caused by fatherlessness are seen so clearly by era comparisons.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that “Of the 3,977,745 babies born in the United States of America in 2015, 1,600,208 of them—or 40.2 percent–were born to unmarried mothers.”

According to National Vital Statistics Reports, “The percentage of all births to unmarried women was 39.8% in 2016.”

According to the U.S. Census, “During the 1960-2016 period, the percentage of children living with only their mother nearly tripled from 8 to 23 percent.”  Both white and black fatherlessness has tripled in that time.

In Baltimore City, according to their Health Department, in 2016, the latest year for which there are reliable statistics, the “percentage of children in single-parent households was 64.8%.” This is lower than other estimates, but let’s go with this one.

What accounts for the tremendous increase?  Moral relativism movements from the ’60s and ’70s, such as the “Do Your Own Thing” crusade with a general liberal lifestyle and contempt for the value of individual responsibility.

In 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of the impending societal problems that would result from what was then an alarming statistic:   25% of black children were born to unwed mothers.  His subsequent, and predictable, excoriation by so-called liberals and then progressives served as a disturbing indicator for how the issue would be dealt with in the decades to come: first ignore the problem; next lionize and absolve of accountability those directly responsible, in this case separated families and women who had children out of wedlock, in order to perpetuate vote-getting victimhood and dependency programs.  Finally, vilify any and all who dare to publicly expose and condemn the new broken-family reality.

Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 70% of black babies are born to unmarried women.

Resistance to open and honest debate 

 This fact flies in the face of a particular ideological inclination that consistently decries economic disadvantages and inequities present in certain communities. There is resistance to any attempt to conduct an open and honest debate centered on the data that show not only predominant fatherlessness, but also the unending array of social pathologies that are causally connected to it: murders, poverty, crime, school violence and bullying, lack of education produced by uninvolved parenting, and the list goes on interminably.

Indeed, those who wish to ignore the social disaster caused by the unmarried parent too often seek to neutralize facts by developing a nuanced narrative.  Such was the case recently when Ozy, the online magazine, hosted a town hall to discuss issues in the black community.

Jemele Hill, formerly of ESPN, suggested that she had seen “scholarship” to the effect that black males are more “involved” with their children than any other group.   Ah, problem solved.  Are we now to accept nebulous involvement as a substitute for the nuclear family? Ms. Hill neglected to name the particular study of which she was speaking.

No communication, no solution

The communication problem guarantees that there will be no solution.  The horrors of murder and other violence and misery get discussed incessantly everywhere: on media, in general conversation, in political campaigns. So why is fatherlessness barely even broached in the public sphere?  Why does Baltimore’s Mayor Pugh not even discuss the matter publicly?  Why do major newspapers, like the Baltimore Sun write otherwise major excellent analyses of the uncontrollable chaotic situation in Baltimore without even referencing the problem of fatherlessness?  Where are courageous politicians who could incentivize two-parent families and stigmatize fatherlessness?

Part of the reason is that changing the nature of the population can be done neither overnight nor in 4-8 years, the limit many politicians will serve.  Conservative commentator Tucker Carlson claims that politicians don’t care about solving problems; they only care about their political careers, and working against fatherlessness is politically risky.

Disincentivizing fatherlessness and getting political and city leaders, teachers, parents, activists (the good kind), and others to stigmatize having babies without present fathers is the answer, but it is a long-term answer, just the kind of solution that disingenuous and insincere problem-solvers are not interested in.

It’s not easy, but it can work.  If we had never incentivized single-parent homes, the problems of violence, poverty and fear would be but a fraction of what they are today.

Tyrone Keys is a Baltimore-based businessman and founder of the economic literacy platform, The Wealth Hustle. Richard E. Vatz, a Towson University professor, is the author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model  and the co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: the Man and His Ideas .

Keys and Vatz have spoken extensively on media and to groups on the neglected problem of fatherlessness


  1. Angry Rhetorician

    Good lord, this is why Vatz has lost all credibility among his discipline. How the hell do you make an entire career just reciting the Moynihan report for decades? Shameful, shameful stuff. Meanwhile, real activists have been fighting against fatherless in our communities since…. well, since Vatz was still a decent scholar.

  2. John Smith

    Vatz is not a respected member within the national organization that governs his field. Your issues with him are just the tip of the iceberg.

  3. SusieQ

    I am happy to discuss this issue. However, you provide no recommendations for what those disincentives should look like. Of course, politicians spend their time raising money for their next election. That’s nothing new. But if you’d like a discussion to result in solutions, you need to offer some. If you are speaking about economic disincentives, do you mean that those who bear children with no father living with the mother will get no money to help raise the children, that’s already the case. When you say fatherlessness, do you mean that the father and the mother are not married? I’d like some of your terms defined and details about potential solutions. Elected officials won’t listen until we do the work of uniting to actually DO something to solve it.

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