Sometimes it feels like beating a dead horse when I write about child support, but whenever I see the typical discussions of the matter in the media and even online, I’m reminded why it’s necessary.
Condemnations of so-called deadbeats remain standard, infantile clichés such as “you’ve got to pay to play” and an enormous amount of denial are the norm, and few people dare reveal any sympathy for the debtor. Even worse, many men who pay child support do their best to distance themselves from those who can’t afford the full amount, suggesting that only the scum of the earth owe any child support.
Well, if that’s the case, most noncustodial parents – including most noncustodial mothers – are the scum of the earth. Almost three out of five, in fact. Being in arrears on child support is not the exception; it is the norm. Almost 30% of custodial parents receive nothing at all, and the average amount of child support paid is 61% of the bill.
From a 2011 US Census report:
In 2009, 41.2 percent of custodial parents received the full amount of child support owed them, down from 46.8 percent in 2007, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The proportion of these parents who were owed child support payments and who received any amount at all — either full or partial — declined from 76.3 percent to 70.8 percent over the period.
All in all, $35.1 billion in child support was owed in 2009 and 61 percent of that total was received.
The report, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2009 [PDF], focuses on the child support income that the nation’s 13.7 million custodial parents reported receiving from noncustodial parents living elsewhere and other types of support, such as health insurance and noncash assistance. These custodial parents had custody of 22.0 million children under age 21 while the other parent lived somewhere else. Most custodial parents (82.2 percent) were mothers.
The data come from the Child Support Supplement to the April 2010 Current Population Survey. This supplement is sponsored, in part, by the Office of Child Support Enforcement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The main reason I’m open about child support issues and my own struggles with the system is because I know enough to realize that I’m not alone. In fact, as far as noncustodial parents go, I’m not in terrible shape. However, I think there’s an enormous amount of ignorance out there. There’s also a problem with shame. How many men have you ever heard admit “I’m in arrears?” Probably not many, but if you know a noncustodial father, he probably is!
Now consider that most black fathers are noncustodial fathers. Black men, because of a lower average income, are almost certainly overrepresented among those in arrears. Instead of 60% of them, it’s probably closer to 70-75%. I’d be willing to bet that half or more of all black fathers – not just noncustodial fathers – are technically “deadbeat dads”. While this may confirm the prejudices of some, it’s actually an enormous injustice, because in most cases these men never had any choice in the matter — I’m sure they would prefer living with their kids to paying babymomma or the state.
For noncustodial white fathers, the number is probably about 50% and rising, so don’t think you’re exempt if you aren’t black. Slaves come in all colors today.
I’d like to ask people who defend the status quo why they think a system that makes most noncustodial parents deadbeats is fair, especially considering that most young women are having children out of wedlock today. Given the civil disabilities imposed on parents who are in arrears, which includes automatic wage garnishment, seizure of tax refunds, non-issuance of passports, arbitrary seizure of bank accounts, license suspension and sometimes incarceration, is it a good idea to make an increasing proportion of the working American male population third class citizens? Is it a good idea to do this selectively to those who have children?
Now consider the future consequences of this policy if there is no change. Families are not becoming more functional, two-parent households are less the norm every year, and wages are stagnant, especially for young men. This looks bad enough already, but add in tens of millions of men with permanent, nondischargeable debt, and you’re creating a very unstable situation. A situation where one might persuasively argue that violence is a rational solution, and have lots of people listen and agree.
Is this really where our policymakers and elites want to go? Unfortunately, that’s what it looks like, and that’s one reason I’m keeping an option to leave this country open.