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Fighting for the souls of our children

By By Gary palmer, Guest Columnist
A few weeks ago I wrote about the high cost of family breakdown, specifically a study released on April 15, that disclosed that the fiscal impact of divorce and unwed child-bearing on taxpayers is a minimum of $112 billion annually. There is now a new study released in June which estimates the cost of absent fathers to taxpayers.
“The One Hundred Billion Dollar Man: The Annual Public Costs of Father Absence” was conducted by the late Steven Nock, Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, and Dr. Chris Einolf to measure the portion of federal expenditures dedicated to the support of fatherless homes. Commissioned by the National Fatherhood Initiative, the study reported that the “direct costs” are $100 billion per year, almost 4 percent of the entire federal budget. Direct costs consisted of expenditures on child support enforcement and 13 additional means-tested federal programs.
Because the study did not take into account indirect costs such as costs for mental health services and the criminal justice system, the estimate is conservative. The $100 billion represents an estimate of how much the federal government spends each year on 14 government programs to support fatherless homes, including almost $23 billion for Medicaid.
This study should be of particular concern for the state of Alabama given that Medicaid is the single largest non-education expense in the state’s budget. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation state health facts, the combined state and federal spending for Medicaid in Alabama in 2006 was almost $3.9 billion. Almost $1.2 billion of it came out of the pockets of Alabama taxpayers.
While the direct costs are staggering, the indirect costs may be even greater in the long run. The April 15 study, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing,” included estimates for indirect costs related to family breakdown such as criminal justice. That study, which assumed a 50 percent higher likelihood of criminal activity for children reared in single female-headed households, estimated the cost to Alabama at $274 million.
Other studies which back up the link between higher crime rates and children living in fatherless homes have found that children are at a significantly greater risk of committing crimes if they live in single-parent households and the risk increases if they live in areas with high levels of family disruption.
These studies, reports and articles have tried to quantify the impact of fatherless children in terms of economic and government costs, crime statistics and education outcomes. But there is one aspect of fatherless households that cannot be quantified … a child’s sense of loss at not having a dad.
Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, calls this sense of loss as “a hole in the soul of a child in the shape of a dad.” He should know. Roland’s father abandoned their family when Roland was only seven.
It wasn’t until his father’s funeral in 1998 that Roland fully understood the true impact of the loss of his father. Throughout the service, person after person spoke about the positive impact that Roland’s father had on their lives. One former prison inmate told how Roland’s dad had helped him get on the right path. Instead of pride in what his dad had done for others, Roland was filled with anger for all that his father had denied him. He remembered thinking, “I had gone to Princeton and I had gotten an MBA from Penn [University of Pennsylvania], but did I need to go to prison in order to get my father’s full love and attention?”
As Roland went to the podium to say a few words about the man he barely knew, he was filled with anger. When he finished, the sense of loss overwhelmed him and he began to sob uncontrollably. Three years later he left a lucrative position with Goldman-Sachs, the Wall Street investment firm, to become president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. He was determined to do all he could to reconnect children with their fathers and fathers with their children.
In the United States, there are over 24 million children growing up without their biological father in the home. Of those, 30 percent (7.2 million) have no contact at all with their dad and an additional 31 percent (7.4 million) have in-person, phone or letter contact with their father less than once a month.
With more than 14 million children growing up with little or no contact with their dad, it is obvious there is a dad-shaped hole in the soul of millions of America’s children. No one will ever be able to calculate the full cost of that. Just ask a child who misses his or her dad.
Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families.
which are indispensable to a prosperous society.
July 11, 2008
Note: This column is a copyrighted feature distributed free of charge by the Alabama Policy Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and API are properly cited. For information or comments contact: Gary Palmer, Alabama Policy Institute, 402 Office Park Drive, Suite 300, Birmingham, Alabama 35223, (205) 870-9900, e-mail garyp@alabamapolicy.org. To subscribe or unsubscribe to this column, please email joannl@alabamapolicy.org.

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