FAMILIES IN PERIL: An Agenda for Social Change by Marian Wright Edelman

FAMILIES IN PERIL: An Agenda for Social Change

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KIRKUS REVIEW

With copious statistics, Edelman (president of the Children's Defense Fund) documents the sudden increase in poverty among families with children. In 1983, for instance, toward the end of a serious recession, nearly 5.5 million children were living in families making less than $3,969 for three people or $5,089 for four, while 13-million children in all lived in official poverty. The subsequent recovery did not benefit these children. Edelman attributes these grim statistics to a multiplicity of factors, among them a stagnant minimum wage, which today falls 25 percent short of the poverty line for a family of three; an 8-percent decrease in aid to the needy since 1981, coupled with a 24-percent increase in arms expenditures. Furthermore, unemployment for black urban males has climbed to nearly 40 percent in the 20-24 age group, while immigrants (frequently undocumented aliens) often get entry level jobs Today, black men--having little hope they will ever earn a breadwinning wage--are increasingly unable or unwilling to marry. One result is that 58-percent rate of black babies are born to unmarried mothers. All this--and more--puts children at risk in often unstable, poorly housed, poorly fed, poorly clothed families. Edelman calls for a pastiche of government and private efforts to remedy the situation. Although she mentions that every industrialized Western nation (except the US) automatically provides government allowances for every child, she does not go that far. She says we are not tuned to ""massive social upheavals"" and prefer ""incremental changes built over time."" Her suggested strategy includes an increase in the minimum wage sufficient to support a family of three; an increase in money and food stamps to a minimum equal to 75 percent of the poverty level; elimination of the anti-family proviso in the states that withhold benefits if an unemployed father lives with his family. Edelman also calls for ""a substantial federal investment. . .to create jobs"" (how, she doesn't say); better education and job-training programs; a concerted effort to reduce teen-age pregnancies; and health insurance for the working poor. Unanswered, unfortunately, is what effect a higher minimum wage might have on US unemployment. In sum, a graphic and eloquent documentation of how the hopes and accomplishments of the 60's were undermined by the inflation of the 70's, and today are virtually destroyed as a seemingly indifferent society tolerates a growing class of permanently impoverished families.

Pub Date: March 5th, 1987
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press