Government encourages attitudes causing high infant mortality rate

By Thomas Sowell, Creators Syndicate

June 1994 – The “welfare state” in the District of Columbia promotes irresponsible behavior with deadly consequences.

With all the things that were once taboo now being talked about on nationwide television, there are other things that we are very squeamish about. One of these is the high infant mortality rate among blacks.

Storm clouds of “racism” charges hang over any discussion of any social problems among blacks. But as Charles Murray, among others, has demonstrated, similar problems occur in Europe where similar policies affect whites. Swedes are about as white as you can get, but their illegitimacy rates are close to those of blacks in the United States.

Welfare policies which affect primarily low-income groups like blacks in the United States affect a far wider portion of the population in Sweden, undermining traditional families there as well.

Murray’s research on the British underclass shows patterns strikingly similar to those of people living in America’s housing projects. Dr. Michael Bernstam of the Hoover Institution has shown how various welfare state policies in the Soviet Union led to large numbers of abandoned “orphans” whose parents were, in fact, alive and well.

A new study of infant mortality rates in the District of Columbia by Professor Nicholas Eberstadt of Harvard and the American Enterprise Institute once more demonstrates that problems which plague a particular race at a particular time are not necessarily due to race, as such—or to poverty for that matter.

In addition to being the murder capital of the world, Washington also has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. Since a majority of the population of D. C. is black, some will automatically assume that this is due to poverty, race, racism, lack of “access” to medical care, poor education, and all the rest of the familiar litany of the welfare-state liberals.

In reality, other black communities with more poverty, less education, and not nearly as much access to medical care have lower infant mortality rates than those in Washington.

The average income of blacks living in the District of Columbia is much higher than the average income of blacks in the country as a whole. Indeed, it is higher than the average income of whites in Utah and Idaho.

Whether measured by physicians or hospital beds available per capita, Washingtonians have more access to medical care than most other people around the country.

Professor Eberstadt has performed a great public service by getting away from the usual comparisons of blacks and whites, where all differences end up being attributed to racism, history, poverty or the other usual suspects.

Eberstadt’s research shows that blacks living in Detroit have more than twice as high an unemployment rate as blacks in D. C., higher poverty rates than Washington blacks – and yet the infant mortality rate is lower in Detroit.

What is unique about Washington is the large number of babies born underweight—a condition that puts their survival in jeopardy. While this is especially true among black Washingtonians, blacks in no other state have such a high incidence of low birthweight babies.

What makes it so hard for the intelligentsia – black or white – to come to grips with facts like these is that their whole vision of the world is one in which people are the victims of circumstances beyond their control. The very thought that people’s own behavior may have something to do with their misfortunes is a threat to the whole house of cards of the modern welfare state.

Nowhere is that welfare state more in operation than in the District of Columbia –and nowhere does it promote more irresponsible behavior with deadly consequences.

While prenatal care is available, some mothers don’t bother to get it. Again, comparing only blacks with other blacks, those mothers who don’t bother to get prenatal care are twice as likely to smoke and six times as likely to drink as those who do. The prenatal care is not what makes the difference. It is just a symptom of a set of attitudes.

Although Professor Eberstadt doesn’t mention it, Mexican Americans receive even less prenatal care than blacks, and yet have lower infant mortality rates than either blacks or whites. It is attitudes and behavior, not prenatal care, that is crucial.

The poverty rate among blacks in Washington is not nearly as highly correlated with the infant mortality rate as is the incidence of illegitimacy. Obviously, babies aren’t dying because their parents don’t have marriage licenses. Again, this is only a symptom of attitudes and behavior.

A different study recently showed that, among black married couples where the husband and wife both worked full-time, the poverty rate was 2%. No, that’s not a misprint: 98% of such black couples were above the poverty level. Again, a marriage license is not magic. It is just a symptom of certain attitudes and behavior.

Nor is this pattern confined to blacks. As more and more whites succumb to the social degeneracy of the welfare state era, their illegitimacy rate has increased five-fold since the early 1960s—and such whites are also having more low-birthweight babies.

Whether for blacks or whites, blaming infant mortality on a lack of “access” to medical care or “parenting skills” is blindly refusing to recognize that personal responsibility is still the key. Where government policies undermine personal responsibility, the results are literally deadly.