The Hill: Two Black Republicans press social conservatism as solution to fatherlessness, racial disparities

Jun 19, 2022
In The News

Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) is embracing social conservatism as a solution to address racial disparities as he crafts potential legislation to address children growing up in homes without fathers, particularly the impact on Black communities. 

“We’re having this conversation about families and fathers that we just have not had in a serious way for a long, long time,” said Owens, a former NFL player who was elected in 2020. “Families create strong communities, which creates a strong nation. It’s always been the case.”

Owens and Rep. Byron Donalds (Fla.), the only two Black members of the House Republican Conference, introduced a House resolution on fatherhood Wednesday that could provide hints on what future legislation may look like. The resolution expresses that “the increased involvement of fathers in the home will lead to economic prosperity, educational excellence, and improved social mobility.”

It mentions the impact of incarceration and the criminal justice system in creating single-parent homes and “misaligned incentives in the structure of Federal welfare programs and the barriers they create in allowing fathers to return home to their spouse and children.”

Suggested are investments in historically Black colleges and universities and opportunity zones where tax benefits are available in low-income areas; tax incentives for participation in being foster parents and mentoring programs; and a national promotional effort to incentivize fatherhood.

That resolution and potential legislation were crafted with the input of Jack Brewer, another former NFL player whose foundation implements programs aimed at bridging the “fatherlessness gap” in Black communities.

“The race issue starts with healing those that are the most underserved. Right now in America, our African American population needs some help,” Brewer told The Hill after a prayer breakfast on Capitol Hill that featured Owens and Donalds on Wednesday. “The reason why our kids’ reading and math proficiency level are the lowest of any demographic in America is because they’re fatherless. The reason why our kids live in poverty is because they’re fatherless.”

He also stressed reintegrating fathers in prison into their childrens’ lives when they leave prison.

Some of the ideas to promote fatherhood are being tested on the state level.

Brewer was also involved with legislation on the “fatherhood crisis” signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) earlier last year that provided $70 million for mentorship programs and support programs for fathers in Florida and increased a stipend for young adults who were in the foster care system attending college or vocational school.

Owens said that his environment growing up in the 1960s, while marred by segregation and racism, was also marked by some successes in the Black community. Black Americans saw economic growth during that period.

“The most important thing is that we had fathers who understood their role,” Owens said. 

He pointed to higher rates of black children in two-parent households in that time period versus today.

In 1960, 67 percent of Black children lived in households with two parents, compared to 41 percent in 2020, according to Census Bureau statistics. For white children, those numbers were 91 percent in 1960 and 79 percent in 2020. 

Present fathers correlate with higher odds of college graduation and avoiding incarceration.

An Institute for Family Studies analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistic data found that for young men in the 2000s and 2010s, those with absent biological fathers were twice as likely to have been incarcerated at least once compared to those with present fathers. 

It also found that those who grew up with a father in the home are more than twice as likely to graduate from college by their late 20s.

Absent parents have also been linked to a higher risk of suicide.

While statistics show the positive outcomes associated with fatherhood, a conservative, patriarchal view of the ideal family also drives the push to return fathers and father figures to the home.

“I say this all the time about raising my kids: My goal is to teach my young son how to be a man and how to help my daughters recognize one,” Owens said. In the past, he added, “young men were taught to love God, country, family, respect for women and authority. Really simple, really basic.”

Brewer also warned against going “against the order of God.”

“The man is the head of the household. And so if we’re not willing as a society to stand with that foundational truth, how do we expect our society to continue to prosper?” Brewer said.

The Hill: Two Black Republicans press social conservatism as solution to fatherlessness, racial disparities

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