Little noticed, a disturbing trend is hurting America: Marriage is disintegrating among high school graduates, many of whom no longer can find careers solid enough to support families.
College graduates still marry and form enduring homes that nurture healthy, successful children -- but the same isn't true for nearly two-thirds of Americans who lack degrees.
Wedlock always has been fragile for the poor at the bottom. But "Middle America," the group with just high school education, traditionally entered secure marriage. However, the culture has changed, and the mid-group rapidly is becoming like the less-privileged segment.
In a Chicago speech about strengthening the middle class and curbing gun violence, President Obama said:
"There's no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for reducing violence, than strong, stable families -- which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood. I wish I had a father who was around and involved."
A new report titled "The President's Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten 60 Percent" says:
"Something astonishing has happened. In 'Middle America," defined here as the nearly 60 percent of Americans aged 25 to 60 who have a high school but not a four-year college degree, marriage is rapidly slipping away.... The plight of this population who once married in high proportions and formed families within marriage... is <I>the<P> social challenge for our times. And virtually no one is talking about it."
As recently as the 1980s, only 13 percent of babies born to mid-group mothers were outside of marriage -- but that rate has soared today to 44 percent. Including the poor at the bottom, more than half of all U.S. babies now are born out of wedlock.
Even among high school graduates who marry, divorce rates are ominous. About 37 percent of Middle America married couples divorce within 10 years, but only 11 percent of college-educated couples do so.
Children from single-parent homes face severe obstacles. They're much more likely to live in poverty, fail at school, become delinquent, suffer drug abuse, get pregnant, get into police trouble, suffer depression, and the like. A Princeton University study found that boys raised without fathers were more than twice as likely to end up in prison.
Sociologists and economists suggest various tax changes and job training plans to improve career chances for high school graduates and foster marriage. Conscientious political leaders who care about the "forgotten 60 percent" should rally behind efforts to curb the disintegration of wedlock in Middle America.