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Single Parenthood & The Decline of African American Family Structure

Single Parenthood & The Decline of African American Family Structure

The decline of the African American family structure has only intensified since the 1960’s. The number of my peers I’ve heard say they or someone they know is a byproduct of single or co-parent households is astronomical. Though historical evidence shows America has made many strides to desegregate and unify the nation, children of minorities, especially African Americans, are still at a systematic disadvantage. 


I am a high school student; born and raised in a two-parent married household, but hearing from my friend how hard things were with separated parents, I started to wonder how much harder life is for a child from a single-parent household who’s also a minority.


The data I found is appalling: out of the minority students of my high school, whom I was able to confer with, (96 people) 50% of my peers came from single-parent households and only 29% households of married parents. I was shocked, so I looked for research to disprove my claim but there was none.


In 1986 the Census Bureau reported that, “more than one-fourth of American families with children – and more than 60 percent of those that are black – were headed by single parents last year” (AP, 1986). ” In addition to this “from 1960 and 2013, African –American children who lived in single-parent homes more than doubled from 22% to 55%” (Johnson, 2017). That means that in a short 50 years, the standard two-parent family structure failed and black families and communities felt its effects the most.


In the 1960s family structure was strong, despite the struggle for civil rights and rampant racism, black homes fought their daily challenges together; however, this all changed with the introduction of deindustrialization and President Nixon’s “War on Drugs” campaign. 


In the late 1960s, “manufacturing employed the largest proportion of black workers [but when deindustrialization began] employment of men in manufacturing in the cities studied dropped by at least eight percent. In cities that were predominantly industrial, such as St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore, manufacturing employment fell by 17 – 19 %” (Kolesnikova and Liu, 2010). When major layoffs started happening all across the U.S. black men were the first to lose their jobs. Because of the educational barriers they faced they often had longer and more difficult periods finding new ones. 


In addition, drug use was becoming a major issue, whether for recreational or for production; President Nixon’s 1971 campaign, increased penalties and sentence minimums for all drug-related crimes. As a result, “the black incarceration rate in America exploded from about 600 per 100,000 people in 1970 to 1,808 in 2000. In the same period, the rate for the white incarceration rate grew from 103 per 100,000 people to 242” (Morrison, 2021). 


The mass incarceration of black fathers left mothers alone as the new heads of households struggling to provide for their families. These single-parent households are more likely to live in poverty as compared to their married counterparts. “Giv­en this, kids of sin­gle par­ents are more like­ly to have phys­i­cal, men­tal and behav­ioral health prob­lems, dis­rupt­ed brain devel­op­ment, short­er edu­ca­tion­al tra­jec­to­ries, con­tact with the child wel­fare and jus­tice sys­tems, employ­ment chal­lenges in adult­hood and more” (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2022).


Others may argue that the increase in single and co-parent households don’t determine the success rate of children from single-parent households (for example Samuel Jackson, Alica Keys, and Jay-Z) however, a 2021 study by sociologist Wendy Wang shows that, “black children from stable two-parent homes do better than white children from single-parent homes when it comes to their risk of poverty or prison, and their odds of graduating from college. Young white men from single-parent families are more likely to end up in prison than young black men from two-parent homes” (Wang, 2021).


The separation of the black father through deindustrialization, and mass incarceration beginning in the 1960s created the fall of the African American family structure and rates of black children being raised in single-parent households that you see today. Family structure is the basis of our society; if our minority groups were more economically stable 50 years ago America’s economy is on the decline. To save our society we must start in the common household because the first person this affects is the one that matters most: our children. 


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