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Black Family Structure

Baltimore, crime, family structure, intact family, race, violence No comments

By Henry Potrykus

In this blog, we recently announced the release of a MARRI overview on “Violence in Baltimore.”  In one part of the overview, we focused-in on black children in Baltimore.  I produced some statistics on the family life and poverty situation these children find themselves in. This post goes into further explanatory detail on that situation.

As background let’s quote from the report:

The city of Baltimore has just under 4,000 white 15- to 17-year olds.  Just over half— nearly 2,000— have seen the break-up of their family of origin.* This is in line with the national experience.

The experience of black Baltimore teens on the cusp of adulthood is different.  Over 15,000 have seen the break-up of their biological parents.  But only 1,500 black 15- to 17-year-old residents of Baltimore have not experienced that act of rejection.  So, for every one black teen of Baltimore who does not experience family rejection, there are ten who do.  More than 90 percent of black Baltimore teens on the cusp of adulthood witness parental rejection. 

Poverty in Baltimore is strongly influenced by this gaping calamity.  The influence of family intactness (for children of any age; see “The Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection”) on the probability of a child (0- to 17-years old) being poor dwarfs the influence of race.

The influence of parental rejection is also greater than that of living only with parents who have dropped out of high school.  The “adjusted mean” level of child poverty in Baltimore is about 29 percent.** Being black raises this rate of poverty by almost 9 percent.  Living in a household only with parents who have dropped out of high school further raises this number by around 13 percent.  Living in a home where no parent has rejected the other lowers this rate of poverty by better than 15 percent, more than half the baseline rate of childhood poverty in the city.

Further Findings

Now, simple accumulation of the baseline, racial, and family relative risks of poverty, shows that family intactness brings childhood poverty among blacks in the city effectively down to the national level (around 22%).  (29 % + 9% – 15% yields less than 23%.)

In fact, the complete (technical) result is even stronger than this.  Intactness cuts poverty by more than half among black children in Baltimore.  (There is a 15 percent residual poverty rate for black children who live in their family of origin, which is below the average for the nation’s children as a whole.)***

Unsurprisingly for Baltimore, then, food stamp (SNAP) dependency and public healthcare (e.g., Medicaid) dependency are more strongly influenced by intactness than they are by the race a child is born into or by parents’ high school completion.

Regarding food stamp dependency: Family intactness shows itself to be more important than either race, or if parents have dropped out of high school. The “adjusted mean” rate of food stamp receipt in Baltimore is an impressive 42 percent for children. Living in a home where no parent has rejected the other lowers this rate of dependency by almost 17 percent.  Black children have a higher recipiency rate by almost 16 percent.  Statistically, then, intact families alleviate the need for Baltimore anti-hunger campaigns targeting minority children.  Living in a household only with parents who have dropped out of high school raises this dependency rate by almost 9 percent.

For public healthcare dependency (in the years 2008 through 2013), intactness is also more important than either race, or if parents have dropped out of high school. The “adjusted mean” rate of public healthcare enrollment in Baltimore is a yet more impressive 61 percent for children. Living in a home where no parent has rejected the other lowers this rate again by around 17 percent.  Black children have a higher enrollment rate by almost 11 percent.  Living in a household only with parents who have dropped out of high school raises the enrollment rate also by almost 9 percent.

These additional empirical facts make it plain: The major factor influencing the (difficult) condition that black children and teens on the cusp of adulthood find themselves in in Baltimore is the lack of family intactness.  This finding becomes plain by testing one influencing factor against the other – family intactness against education, intactness and education against race–as is reported on here. 

Does poverty or a lack of economic opportunity cause violence?  Perhaps dispossessed persons are more likely to riot.  Economics would certainly say that in the absence of strict-enough penalties the dispossessed are more likely to break things they don’t have an ownership interest in.  Want to fight black poverty or dispossession in Baltimore?  There’s an obvious place to start: The intact family unit.

Endnotes:

*Population counts, taken from the American Community Survey 2008-2013, are known to a precision of about +/- 200 kids.  There are 137,400 children (of any age) found in Baltimore.

**This mean is adjusted for race (i.e., if one is non-white), parents not being high-school graduates, and the intactness of a child’s family of origin.  The adjustment is computed by an ordinary least squares regression on sampled Baltimore children (N 6440; R^2 0.14). Only significant factors (p < 0.05) shall be reported for any regression.  I also tested models with controls for parental age.  The results are pretty much the same for race and family intactness’ influences (i.e. – to statistical uncertainty:  the influences reduce in magnitude by about 1.5 percent). There are fundamental, sociological reasons why these two factors behave this way; reasons I eschew elaborating on in this post.

***Intactness also nullifies most of the negative influences of having only parents who have dropped out of high school. (There is a 5 percent residual [pejorative] influence of parental education among black childhood poverty.  Intactness better than completely compensates for the influence of low parental education attainment among whites:  There is a 4 percent net reduction in poverty off the baseline when intactness is faced off against low education attainment among white parents.)

This is the result of the saturated model for the adjustment factors of the foregoing endnote (“mean adjustment computation”).

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