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Jewish World Review May 18, 2000 /13 Iyar, 5760

Joseph Perkins

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The biggest threat to children -- "We have stubbornly refused to take prevention seriously when it comes to guns, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children." -- Bill Clinton

"There is no greater threat to the health and safety of our children than tobacco." -- Al Gore

"Some of these young people have problems that are symptoms of nothing more than childhood or adolescence." -- Hillary Rodham Clinton

The president, the vice president and the first lady do a lot of talking about children and the myriad threats to their well-being, including guns, cigarettes and psychiatric drugs (like Ritalin and Prozac).

Yet for all their professions of concern for the nation's children, neither Bill Clinton, Al Gore nor Hillary Clinton had anything whatsoever to say about the recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics revealing that in 1998, 1,293,567 babies were born out of wedlock -- "the highest number ever reported."

Those 1,293,567 illegitimate babies represented 33 percent of all births in 1998. And among the nation's two largest minorities, blacks and Hispanics, the numbers were even more troubling: 41 percent of Hispanic babies and 70 percent of black babies were born to unwed moms.

This epidemic of illegitimacy cries out for comment, for action, from the Clinton-Gore White House, just as surely as the president, the vice president and the first lady have made their feelings known about, and proffered their policy prescriptions for, kids and guns, kids and cigarettes, and kids and prescription drugs.

But neither the president, the vice president nor the first lady is about to utter the first word on the growing incidence of out-of-wedlock births in this country. For they dare not risk offending the sensibilities of their liberal (and libertine) supporters who view marriage as an anachronism (except, perhaps, between homosexuals) and childbirth without benefit of marriage as a "lifestyle choice."

The president, the vice president and the first lady trot out all manner of facts and figures to validate their assertions that new gun laws need to be enacted to protect children from guns, that tougher measures need to be taken to discourage children from smoking, and that closer scrutiny ought to be brought to bear on children being narcotized by psychiatric drugs.

But they refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence, from the National Center for Health Statistics, among others, that clearly shows that the life chances of a child born out of wedlock (like the 1,293,567 illegitimate babies brought into the cruel world in 1998), raised in a one-parent home, are considerably worse than a child born and raised in a family with both a mom AND dad.

Indeed, a child growing up in a one-parent family is six times as likely to be poor as a child growing up with two parents. He or she is two to three times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems (which may explain, in part, why use of Ritalin among preschoolers increased 150 percent between 1991 and 1995, and antidepressants, such as Prozac, more than 200 percent).

The children of one-parent families are more likely to drop out of high school, to get pregnant as teen-agers, to use illegal drugs, and to engage in unlawful activity.

So the 1,293,567 babies born to unwed moms in 1998 are all, by definition, at-risk children. But again, this administration that is so preoccupied with kids and guns, kids and tobacco, and kids and Prozac, has completely ignored this critical children's issue.

Of course, the reason is that while it's easy, while it's politically expedient, for the president, the vice president and the first lady to demonize the gun industry, the tobacco industry and the pharmaceutical industry, there is no convenient political villain on which they can blame the pathologies resulting from out-of-wedlock births (save for maybe "deadbeat dads").

So the first couple and Gore tacitly accept the liberal orthodoxy that there's nothing inherently wrong with unwed motherhood -- that a child is no better or worse off in a one-parent family than in a two-parent family.

But that fiction must not go unchallenged.

For no matter what Bill Clinton says, what Al Gore says or what Hillary Rodham Clinton says, the biggest threat to the well-being of America's children is not guns or tobacco or antidepressants or some other evil consumer product. It's being born to an unwed mother and ultimately growing up in a one-parent home.

JWR periodic contributor Joseph Perkins is San Diego Union-Tribune columnist and a television commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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