Culture & the Family

Jonathan Small | May 17, 2021

Family beats any government program

Jonathan Small

For this year’s annual Citizenship Award Dinner, OCPA was honored to have sports journalist Jason Whitlock as our keynote speaker. Whitlock is known for his refreshing takes on sports and social issues and didn’t disappoint.

While he touched on several topics, Whitlock, who is black, noted that those who suggest police are routinely killing innocent black men are ignoring data that show he is more likely to be shot by someone in his local neighborhood than by the police. He also noted that pop cultural influences have played a huge role in influencing youth to pursue lifestyles that end badly. Such influences are often more impactful than the “systemic racism” proclaimed by academics.

Whitlock’s comments brought to mind the “success sequence” identified by researchers with the left-of-center Brookings Institution, who found that individuals who do three things typically become middle-class earners.

What are those three components of success? First, one should finish school. Second, one should get a full-time job or be married to someone with a full-time job—and it doesn’t matter what the job may be. Third, one should wait to have children until married and older than age 21.

Brookings found that “blacks and whites who follow the three norms have about the same likelihood of ending up near the middle, with incomes three to five times the federal poverty line.”

Notably, those three factors are strongly tied to family. Children who have both mom and dad in the home, with at least one parent working, enjoy greater success in life, on average.

Author and academic Thomas Sowell, who is also black, has noted similar data. Sowell has pointed out that black families made great progress in the 20th century even prior to passage of Great Society programs. The poverty rate among blacks fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent by 1960, a far faster rate of decline than what occurred in subsequent years.

The period in which poverty fell the fastest was also one where more families were intact. Sowell notes 78 percent of black children were raised in two-parent families in 1960, compared to 66 percent raised by a single parent 30 years after welfare-state expansion.

The explosion of single-parent households that Sowell noted has also produced negative outcomes among other demographic groups.

That a stable family contributes to a child’s long-term success is not shocking because it lines up with most peoples’ lived experiences. Yet too much government policy ignores that reality.

There’s no doubt true systemic racism—such as Jim Crow laws—was a chokehold for racial progress. And there’s no doubt that an intact family, far more than any government program, still provides the ability to clear such hurdles in life.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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