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Moynihan, Citing Poverty Rate, Calls for New Family Policies

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Washington--Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, whose 1965 report on the plight of black families stirred a national debate but was criticized by some as racist, said last week that the nation must develop a bipartisan family-oriented policy to tackle growing poverty that "is now inextricably linked with the family structure."

The problems facing families--particularly female-headed households--and children now cross racial lines, said Senator Moynihan, a New York Democrat, in a series of lectures at Harvard University last week. His office here made the text of his prepared remarks available.

"No government, however firm might be its wish otherwise, can avoid having policies that profoundly influence family relationships," he said. "This is not to be avoided. The only option is whether these will be purposeful, intended policies or whether they will be residual, derivative, in a sense concealed ones."

Countering new arguments by conservatives that social programs do more harm than good, the Senator cited federal programs as the main reason for the large decline in poverty among senior citizens:

"The extraordinary achievement of this era was the near abolition of poverty among the aged, the result almost altogether of social policy," he said. "This left the contrasting condition of youth all the more striking."

Children in Poverty

"Children (under the age of 18) represented well over one-third (39 percent) of the total number of persons in poverty," he said, quoting 1983 data from the Congressional Budget Office. "More than one child in five was living below the poverty line in 1983."

"The poverty rate for children in female-headed households was much higher (56 percent) than that for all children in other families," he continued. And the number of female-headed and single-parent4households has risen consistently since 1960, he pointed out, citing Census Bureau statistics.

By the year 2000, Senator Moynihan said, about three-quarters of American families will be "of the 'traditional' sort," but between 1980 and 2000, "the numbers of female-headed families will increase at more than five times the rate of husband-wife families."

Program Recommendations

In 1965, Senator Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor in the Johnson Administration, reported that disproportionate poverty among blacks resulted largely from the breakdown of the black family. Some, including many blacks, argued that this claim was racist and incorrectly identified the cause and effect of poverty among blacks.

At Harvard last week, Senator Moynihan said, "It is especially to be hoped that we might hereafter consciously try to avoid the entanglements of race, ethnicity, and region. ... The subject is family and the concern is for the nation."

Among Senator Moynihan's recommendations were changes in the tax system to the benefit of poor families and children, such as the indexing of federal entitlements to children; educational programs to discourage teen-age pregnancy and abortion; and job-training programs for women who head households.

He also cited the Head Start program as an example of the political common ground that "competing and antagonistic factions" must find. He termed the Head Start effort "disorganized and decentralized" and noncompulsory--"things that conservatives might very well have hoped for."

He concluded by quoting his own 1965 report, "A Family Policy for the Nation": "A national family policy need only declare that it is the policy of the American government to promote the stability and well-being of the American family, and that the social programs of the federal government will be formulated and administered with this object in mind."

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