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Unstable family best indicator of violence

City Council had an important discussion Oct. 29 with the Urban League and citizens to address the recent increase in homicides in the city. The level of violence in Fort Wayne and the U.S. has also changed in character, with a growing number of senseless killings.

We have seen a Fort Wayne murder over who had more “street cred.” In other cities, an Australian jogger was shot because teens were bored; a baby was shot dead in its mother’s arms; and elderly war veterans were beaten to death. Something has changed in our society.

I do not think the change is due to gun availability since guns were more available years ago when you could order them from the Sears catalog or pick one up at the hardware store with no background check. I do not think it is just because of poverty because that was worse during the Great Depression when there was less crime and senseless violence.

I do not think it is because we have not spent money on social programs, since spending per person in poverty skyrocketed from $4,300 per person in 1980 to $13,000 per person in 2011. I do not think it is just because of racism, which still exists but is certainly less than years ago when we had less crime.

So what did change in the last several years? In 1950, 5 percent of children were born to single mothers. Now, 72 percent of children are born to single mothers in minority communities nationwide (in Fort Wayne, 61 percent of black families are headed by a female, compared to 21 percent of white families). Every social pathology is highly correlated to this demographic. Female-headed families have many more problems, whether the family is white, black or Hispanic.

It is not a racial issue. It is a socioeconomic issue. Children in female-headed families are four to five times more likely to be in poverty, more likely to fail in school or drop out, more likely to be arrested, more likely to get pregnant as teens, have more mental problems and suicides, and have no relationship or a difficult relationship with fathers.

People can avoid poverty in the U.S. if they do three things: 1) complete high school; 2) work full time in any job; and 3) wait until 21 and until married before having a baby. If you do all three things, you only have a 2 percent chance to be in poverty and a 72 percent chance of joining the middle class. If you violate all three you have a 77 percent chance to be in poverty and a 4 percent chance to join the middle class.

We are becoming a nation of Two Americas – not black and white, but one of kids born into stable families who get a good start in life and another of kids of single-parent homes with all the accompanying social ills.

Reducing single-parent families should be one of our top priorities. It must be addressed to stop the flow of this river of disconnected young males committing senseless crimes. Some programs proven to help include media campaigns to increase condom use, teen programs to instruct on proper use of contraceptives and abstinence, and expansion of family planning services for Medicaid with increased use of birth control.

Churches, citizens and family members must strongly encourage young people to not have children before they can support themselves and the children, or these social problems will only escalate. We need to say this behavior is wrong not in a moral sense but because it leads to poverty for themselves and their children and often crime.

I applaud the ideas in the “Building Bridges to a Better Community” plan discussed by the Urban League. We need more mentoring, jobs, education, economic development, better police relations and other ideas to help the at-risk youth we already have get on the right path and avoid crime. But, we also need to make every effort to decrease single-parent families to try to reduce the ever-increasing number of at-risk kids we will see in the future. We need an all-of-the-above approach to decrease crime if we are to make progress.

John Crawford is an at large city councilman. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.