Punish the Victims

November 24, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Alot of crazy ideas are now at large in America that, if codified and pursued, would create a social explosion beyond anything we've ever seen.

Perhaps the most dangerous is the demagogic campaign by conservatives who throw out inflammatory statistics about illegitimate babies as a reason to abolish the entire American welfare system.

Within this month you've seen a George Will column deploring the fact that the illegitimacy rate is now 68 per cent for blacks and a fast-rising 22 per cent for whites and that ''government now subsidizes such behavior.'' Charles Krauthammer asserted that the only way to stop ''this cycle of illegitimacy'' is to ''stop the welfare checks.''

Sociologist Charles Murray says the only way to head off the ''apocalypse'' of out-of-control white illegitimacy is to abolish Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the food-stamp program and public housing, and restore the stigma against unmarried girls who get pregnant. The Republican Party and even President Clinton are nuzzling up to the scheme of Wisconsin's Republican governor, Tommy G. Thompson, to throw poor blacks, Native Americans and poor whites off all welfare rolls if they don't get self-sustaining jobs within two years. This despite the paucity of jobs, especially for the groups put at risk.

Let me say these things about this hypocritical orgy of contempt for women who have babies out of wedlock and families that survive in desperation, living off food stamps and subsidies for clothing and shelter:

* Sexual ''morality'' is not the great concern of Messrs. Krauthammer, Will or the others. They take the position that Marla Maples, Goldie Hawn, Eddie Murphy and others can produce as many ''illegitimate'' babies as they can afford. But they refuse to face the reality that this society cannot re store the stigma to any girl ''getting knocked up'' if they condone rich single women delivering ''illegitimate'' babies with impunity.

* Mr. Will deplores ''government subsidies'' and Mr. Krauthammer is bothered that ''hard-working taxpayers'' have to support babies born out of wedlock. I am as dismayed by the problems of illegitimacy, divorces and resultant one-parent families as they are. More so, I'd wager. But I am not willing to be cruel to innocent children in some stupid, angry notion that I am punishing their ''check-grabbing'' mothers, or teaching some lesson to the men who impregnated them.

I know that denying medical care, food, shelter, clothing, educa- tion, day care to these children born outside traditional marriages would in less than a generation create a colossal social tragedy for America -- including violence beyond anything we can now imagine.

* This ''cut off the welfare check'' demagoguery is not new. The suggestion that unmarried black women were having babies just to get a welfare check was commonplace during the Nixon administration.

Unmarried black women are getting pregnant out of wedlock for a variety of social and psychological reasons shared by all American women: Some say they can't find a husband when a fourth of young black men are trapped in prisons, jails and other parts of the criminal justice system; others say that, like Marla Maples, getting pregnant might tenderly trap or draw them closer to the man they want; still others say having a baby gives them a chance to feel like ''a real woman''; and almost none feels like a slut, because poor women know that their rich critics are having premarital and extramarital sex regularly -- some to the point that their wives throw them out.

* The hardest thing to do is get virulent racism out of this discussion. Americans can't shake off the Nixon-era stereotype of an average welfare recipient as a fat black woman with 10 illegitimate children living in New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. As this nation-endangering media-political orgy goes on, please remember that the demagoguery about abolishing welfare affects directly 1,862,000 white, 1,781,000 black, and 852,000 lTC Hispanic families that now get Aid to Families with Dependent Children; 4,300,000 white, 3,100,000 black and 1,300,000 Hispanic households that get food stamps.

It affects far more white chil- dren than black. In 1991, 707,502 white children were born outside marriage, compared with 463,750 black babies. Welfare is based fundamentally on the needs of children, not on comparative racial statistics.

''Welfare'' is never defined by the poor, but by rich columnists and comfortable politicians. Peter G. Peterson, Richard Nixon's secretary of commerce, points out in his new book, ''Facing Up,'' that in 1991 families with less than $10,000 annual income got an average of $5,700 in welfare while families with incomes above $100,000 got government payments averaging $9,300 a year.

This cruel game of beating up on the neediest, most tragic, people in America must be stopped dead in its cruel tracks.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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