Urban Wire Moynihan Revisited: Assessing Changes in African American Families over the Past Five Decades
Gregory Acs
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In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s controversial report on the state of black families argued—for the first time—that progress against poverty required family stability. “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” released by the U.S. Department of Labor, linked the relatively low levels of nuclear families in the black community to high levels of poverty and emphasized the economic and familial roles of black men.

How are black families faring now, almost five decades after the release of the Moynihan Report? An analysis of national data indicates that little progress has been made on the key issues Moynihan identified. Further, many of the issues he identified for black families are now prevalent among other families. For example:

  • In 1960, about 1 in 5 black children were born to unwed mothers, compared with about 1 in 50 white children. By 2010, non-marital births skyrocketed so that almost three out every four black children and almost one out of every three white children are born outside of marriage.
  • The share of children living in households without their biological fathers more than doubled for blacks, whites, and Hispanics between 1960 and 2010. But the gaps between groups remain large: 53 percent of black children, 31 percent of Hispanic children, and 20 percent of white children lived in mother-only families in 2010.
  • Although child poverty rates have fallen since the 1960s, the rates are much higher for black and Hispanic children than for whites. Almost two out five black children and one out of three Hispanic children were poor in 2010, compared with about one in eight white children.

Since the Moynihan report was released, another major social trend has put further strains on black families—the mass incarceration of black men. By 2010, about one out of every six black men had spent some time in prison, compared with about 1 out of 33 white men.

The Urban Institute, in collaboration with Fathers Incorporated and sponsored by the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, is hosting a forum to revisit the issues raised in the Moynihan report. Scholars and policymakers will assess the current state of black families and how they compare with families of other race and ethnic groups. They will also discuss the role fathers can play in improving the circumstances of black children and the policy pathways that await national action.

To learn more about the Moynihan Report, the current state of black families, and prospects for the future, watch our webcast live at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/urban-institute-events and visit our websites:  www.moynihanrevisitd.com, www.urban.org, and www.fathersincorporated.com.

Research Areas Families
Tags Economic well-being Family and household data Racial and ethnic disparities Family structure Parenting
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center