U.S. Cultural Indicators: Looking Better?

But a Closer Look at Data Raises Long-term Fears

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WASHINGTON, D.C., APR. 2, 2001 (Zenit.org).- For the first time since he began compiling the "Index of Leading Cultural Indicators," former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett may have had more good news to report than bad. But the bad is in the area that can undermine nearly all of the good, reports the Washington Times.



Whereas in past compilations, Bennett reported that violent crime had increased by 370% between 1960 and 1993, out-of-wedlock childbearing had grown by 450%; and the percentage of children receiving welfare had increased by 270% -- in 2001 there are signs of that some of these trends have slowed and even reversed.

The best news is that violent crime has suddenly dropped precipitously. Between 1990 and 1997, the overall crime rate fell by 27%, taking it to the lowest point since 1973; and the violent crime rate fell by 28%, bringing violent crime rates down to a point last seen in 1978. Murder has fallen by 42% since 1991.

Some of the decrease in crime is certainly attributable to the fact that, starting in 1990, America began to lock up larger numbers of criminals. Between 1990 and 1999, the rate of sentenced prisoners in the United States increased by 60%. Translation: fewer criminals at large. During roughly the same period, the expected sentence for serious crimes increased by 39%. (By contrast, between 1960 and 1970, the expected sentences for serious crimes dropped by 20% while the crime rate doubled.)

The 1990s also saw a slight decline in the divorce rate -- 5%. It´s not much when compared with the doubling of the divorce rate between 1960 and 1997, but it´s a step in the right direction. There is similar news about the abortion rate. For the first time since 1973, abortions have decreased by 7%. Among teen-agers, the drop in abortions since 1990 was 28%.

On the other hand, on the crucial measures of social stability -- those dealing with family structure -- recent years have seen more, not less, damage. Between 1990 and 1999, the percentage of illegitimate births grew by 18%. The increase since 1960 is 523%. More than two-thirds of all black children are now illegitimate, as are 42.1% of Hispanics, and 22% of whites.

When women 18 to 49 were asked whether they would consider raising a child on their own, more than 60% answered yes. More than 80% of black women will be single heads of households at some point in their lives. The median family income for a two-parent married family is four times that of a never-married woman with children.

Not every child raised by a single parent is destined for trouble or poverty -- but the risk is high. These children are 3 times likelier than those raised by two married parents to have a child out of wedlock themselves, twice as likely to drop out of high school, and 1.4 times more likely to be out of work. Seventy-two percent of teen-age murderers, 70% of long-term prison inmates and 60% of rapists come from fatherless homes.

And even in homes with both parents present, American children are spending more and more time in front of the TV or the computer, instead of reading, playing or talking to their parents. The average child spends more than 4.5 hours per day watching TV -- and only 23.1% of parents think this is too much. Though 64% of parents object to the content on television, it isn´t clear that they can adequately supervise what the kids are watching when 57% of kids ages 8 to 16 have televisions in their bedrooms.