Families across the world will recognize and celebrate the important role fathers play in keeping families whole and healthy this Father’s Day. Yet for millions of low-income families in America, fathers are unable to fulfill this role, a fact that has ramifications not only for the family’s immediate well-being, but also for their communities and the future of their children. Despite great efforts to alleviate the struggle of low-income families, current policy only targets children and mothers and does not recognize the role fathers play in the well-being of the family.
An upcoming report from the Center for American Progress makes the case that policies focused on strengthening families would better address poverty and the needs of children if they are more inclusive of fathers. Low-income men, many of whom are men of color, face significant obstacles in providing for their families. Scarce job opportunities and low wages make it difficult to maintain a family intact, put food on the table, and provide for adequate housing. These problems are often tied to a lack of education and skills—those with the least education earn the lowest wages. Declines in unionization, failures to increase the minimum wage, and the exploitation of immigrant workers for cheap labor have all negatively affected the wages of low-skilled workers. Many low-income men are disconnected from employment, society, and housing as a result.
We must tackle the issues that alienate fathers if we are serious about improving the well-being of poor families of this nation. The overall damage to the family caused by the lack of support networks, job opportunities, and affordable housing for men—especially men of color—is too great to ignore. According to recent Department of Housing and Urban Development data 5.47 million households currently spend 50 percent or more of their income just on rent. Further, a full-time worker earning minimum wage could not afford a two-bedroom apartment in any state or county in the United States, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Prison also tears families apart. The prison population in the country has grown exponentially over the years. African-American and Latino men are disproportionately represented in the prison population, and many of these men are also fathers. More than half of male inmates in state prisons, and most of those in federal prisons, have children. Separation due to incarceration hinders many fathers’ relationships with their children. Released inmates, who face a 75 percent unemployment rate, will continue to struggle to provide for their families even after they return home. Children of incarcerated fathers experience higher poverty rates, multiple residences, and caregiver changes, and have caregivers who abuse drugs, have mental health problems, or are inadequately educated.
A responsible fatherhood program is necessary. When President Obama gives his annual Father’s Day remarks, he needs to make clear that we need to include men within the notion of family for policy purposes. The proposed Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovations Fund, which would provide $500 million to fund programs and services for fathers and families, could play a significant role in making a change for more support for men who are struggling to provide for their families. We can reduce poverty by addressing those very issues that disconnect fathers from society, and by providing more resources, such as marriage and financial counseling, which help relieve the stress on families living in poverty. On this Father’s Day, it is important to consider factors that would improve families across the nation by helping men who are willing to undertake their role as caretakers.
Joy Moses is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty and Prosperity program and Alex Cárdenas is an intern with the Ethnic Media team at American Progress.