NEW YORK -- For several years analysts of various political persuasions claim that indexes of social pathology are leveling off and, in some instances, showing dramatic declines.
Examples abound: The murder rate nationwide has decreased significantly. The rate of illegitimacy has not increased in the last several years.
Surely this would appear to be good news or, at least, hopeful news. But a recent census report reveals another snapshot of America. It was pointed out that the number of single mothers in America increased three times as fast as married couples. Nearly 13 million women were raising children without a husband in the home; 10.6 million were in that position a decade earlier.
It would seem that the "Leave It To Beaver" family with two parents and two kids under 18 is a declining minority.
The marriage decline is one of the most telling statistics about the changing face of America. This decline has occurred despite an increase in the number and percentage of available men.
This is hardly surprising since the stigma once attached to illegitimacy and divorce has been effectively removed. What this means is that the nation is presently going through an epidemic of fatherless children.
Moreover, celebrities speak openly about the "joys" of single parenthood without the unnecessary encumbrance of a husband in the home. Rosie O'Donnell invariably waxes lyrical about the pleasure of raising kids on her own. Madonna before her recent marriage was quite blunt about needing a man only to sire a child but not to help raise one.
Needless to say, neither O'Donnell nor Madonna suffer from the high rate of poverty that disproportionately affects female headed households.
While feminists speak routinely of single mothers raising children without husbands, the social detritus has washed up into living rooms across America. A crisis is building, whether it is from defining deviancy down or emulating deviancy on high.
Raising kids alone is a risk. As most parents will tell you, having two parents in the home is better than one. While some indices of social concerns may show improvement or leveling, I don't think these statistical measurements can improve so long as fewer than one-quarter of all families have husbands in the home.
It is one thing to discuss the blessings of matrimony as personal fulfillment. Author Maggie Gallagher has noted that married people live longer, healthier and more satisfying lives than their single counterparts.
Perhaps more significant, however, is the social effect of intact marriage nowithstanding a widespread belief that divorce does not have a harmful effect on children.
The decline in the nuclear family should give all Americans pause. It is the equivalent of having a live explosive in the nation's psyche.
It's not fashionable to contend that America would be better off if we could somehow re-stigmatize illegitimacy and divorce. I'm persuaded, however, it just might mitigate the effect of social pathology and the moral breakdown that the Census Bureau statistics reflect.