Guest Editorial


MENCKEN'S GHOSTBananas are not the cause of racial differences in income and graduation rates

Imagine if the media ran stories about lung cancer and never mentioned that a major cause of the disease is smoking.  Worse, imagine if the media said that eating bananas was a major cause of the disease.  Well, the media has done something similar in recent stories about the reasons why household income and college graduation rates are low for certain races.

The stories suggested that the primary causes are racial discrimination, social injustice, insufficient spending on education and social programs, a dwindling number of unskilled jobs that pay a “living wage,” and other canards, or bananas.

Actually, a primary cause of racial differences in household income and graduation rates is the high incidence of single-parent families among certain races.  Take a look at this table:

                                                Household        Graduation      Single-Parent
Race                                         Income              Rate               Families
Asian                                        $65,469              52%                  16%
Non-Hispanic White                    $54,461              33%                  23%
Hispanic                                    $38,039              13%                  32%
Black                                        $32,584              19%                  65%                       

Scores of empirical studies confirm what the table suggests – wnamely that single-parent families (and out-of-wedlock births) are indeed a primary cause of lower income and higher dropout rates, as well as other serious socioeconomic problems.

Other factors come into play, of course.  For example, the lower household income and graduation rates for Hispanics compared to Asians and Non-Hispanic Whites aren’t solely due to higher incidence of single-parent families.   The disparities are also due to a lack of English mastery, to low skills, and to a cultural heritage of a high dropout rate in their mother country, especially for illegal immigrants from Mexico.

It’s also true, as many single mothers have angrily told me over the years, that hidden in the national averages are notable exceptions of single parents doing a heroic job of raising children who excel.   

However, putting the exceptions aside, the nexus between single-parent families and socioeconomic ills is so strong that I believe that much of the nation’s deficit spending could be reduced dramatically if the incidence of single-parent families would be reduced to what it is for Asians:  16 percent.  There would be significant decreases in spending on welfare, on other social programs, and on remedial education.  Crime would also decrease significantly, resulting in less spending on law enforcement, the judiciary, and prisons.  At the same time, there would be a corresponding increase in income, tax revenue, and the nation’s productivity.

Unfortunately, there can’t be an intelligent national conversation about this as long as reporters, politicians, academics, and government bureaucrats make monkeys of themselves by talking about bananas instead of the real root cause of many socioeconomic problems.

“Mencken’s Ghost” is the nom de plume of an Arizona author.  He can be reached at