a1 Department of Sociology, Columbia University
The Moynihan Report of 1965 will soon be fifty years old, and some social scientists now venerate it as a sterling application of social science data and analysis by the federal government. This author, who was directly involved in events connected with the release of the Report, does not agree; this article examines the shortcomings of the Report. I argue that Moynihan's analysis, which intended to investigate the ties between Black male unemployment and the Black family, actually devoted most of its attention to the high proportion of single-parent families in the poor Black population, treating it as one symptom of a “tangle of pathology” that stood in the way of this population's escape from joblessness and poverty. Today, the Report is being hailed as having predicted the current and still worsening state of the poor Black family. Moynihan's work is also being reinterpreted as an early application of cultural analysis, thereby further drawing attention away from the job-related issues which led Moynihan to undertake his study. Moynihan himself made significant contributions to antipoverty policy later in his career, but his Report does not deserve the worship it continues to receive.
(Online publication October 24 2011)
Herbert J. Gans is the Robert S. Lynd Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia University. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in Social Planning and has taught at Columbia University since 1971. His primary research interests are: poverty and antipoverty policy; race and ethnicity; urban democracy and equality; and the news media. He is the author of a dozen books, his first being The Urban Villagers (1962), his latest Imagining America in 2033 (2008). He has held Guggenheim, Marshall, and Media Studies Center Fellowships and a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholarship and received ASA's Distinguished Scholarship award and lifetime merit awards from its Migration and Urban sections. He is a past President of the American Sociological Association and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In four years, the so-called Moynihan Report of 1965, “The Negro Family: The Case for Federal Action” (Moynihan 1967),2 will be fifty years old, but there are already signs that it could become immortal. In this century alone, it has been memorialized and celebrated in Hodgson's (2000) sympathetic biography of Moynihan, by the creation of a Moynihan Prize, at two conferences (Massey and Sampson, 2009a; Moynihan et al., 2004), and most recently by an entire book (Patterson 2010).
The memorializing has pursued three agendas. First, it celebrates the Report's social science, remembering its author as “prescient” and “prophetic.” Although Moynihan did not try to be either, his Report is now read as having predicted a continuing increase in Black family instability and ghetto pathology.
Second, the celebrations have continued and sometimes escalated Moynihan's long ago attack on unnamed “liberals” and social scientists who failed to do further research and writing on the failings of the Black family.
Third, some celebrants have reframed Moynihan's findings as partially cultural, thus enrolling the Report in the current drive to emphasize “culture,” sometimes at the expense of “structure,” in the study of poverty.
However, rereading the Report today raises questions about whether it ever deserved so much praise, for even at the time of its writing, it displayed serious shortcomings as both social science and social policy. Moreover, I believe these problems could have been avoided when Moynihan wrote the Report, for sufficient research findings and other necessary information were available to him.
I do not want to engage in a blaming exercise; Moynihan was a creative and constructive thinker about antipoverty and other public policy, who tried to persuade the federal government and the country to attack the economic and other inequalities of the poor Black population. The Report was in some respects an unusual federal research venture, written under less than optimum conditions. Nor could its author have predicted the conditions under which the Report would be released and the reception it would meet. Had he been able to do so, some of the Report's shortcomings might have been corrected before it saw the light of day.3 Still, the shortcomings remain; the praise that continues to be showered on the Report and its enduring influence justify another analysis of these shortcomings.
“The Negro Family” argued that the basic problem of the Black (then called Negro) population was male unemployment and low wages paid to poor Black workers. As its title suggests, the Report devoted most of its attention to the instability of Black family life, particularly the proliferation of the single-parent or female-headed family and its illegitimate offspring. These Moynihan considered major causes of what he called a “tangle of pathology” that helped to mire many Blacks in poverty. In addition, he warned about the associated occurrence of poor school performance, street crime, delinquency, and drug use. However, the Report attracted most attention for its claim that the single-parent family is accompanied by a self-perpetuating mechanism that causes it to produce another generation of such families with all the accompanying pathologies.
Moynihan warned that unless the Black single-parent family was replaced by the two-parent nuclear family, ghetto pathology was likely to worsen further. Although the Report made no concrete policy recommendations, it suggested that a jobs policy was needed to deal with unemployment, hinted at the need for what was later called affirmative action, and proposed that the country's pursuit of equality of opportunity be replaced by one for an equality of results. Nonetheless, Moynihan also urged action by the Black community itself, in effect demanding that it pull itself up by its familial bootstraps.
The Report initially found favor with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who made it one theme in a presidential address. The White House plans for a subsequent conference to begin implementing the Report were scuttled, however, once the Report became public knowledge, and generated considerable public criticism. That criticism came from both the Left and the Right: from commentators, social scientists, the Civil Rights Movement and Black leaders. That the violence in Watts, the Black ghetto of Los Angeles, took place shortly after the Report first became known did not help matters.
The criticism by liberals and social scientists led Moynihan to develop a lifelong antagonism to them, blaming the social scientists, among other things, for being too cowardly to do research on the problems he had identified in the Report. At the same time, Moynihan continued to press for economic help to the Black community, beginning in his initial position on the Harvard faculty later in the 1960s.
As an adviser to the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, Moynihan worked hard if unsuccessfully to obtain Congressional approval for his welfare-reforming Family Assistance Plan. He continued to support antipoverty policies during his four terms as U.S. Senator from New York, and opposed Bill Clinton's ending of welfare “as we know it.” In short, on poverty-related issues he remained a liberal himself, even though at the same time he sided with the neoconservatives, many of them personal friends, on other domestic and foreign policy issues.4
I believe I can reanalyze the Report without indulging in undue hindsight because, unlike most of today's celebrants of the Report, I participated in public and other discussions, including one with a senior White House adviser, following the Report's arrival in the public arena.5 I had gotten to know Moynihan before the Report was released, but I probably first read the entire Report in August 1965. After seeing the early critical newspaper stories about the Report, I was concerned about how it might be received. Specifically, I worried that because of the lack of policy proposals to solve the economic problems that Moynihan laid out, the Report's reception would emphasize the prevalence of the single parent family and the tangle of pathology rather than Moynihan's references to Black male unemployment.
Consequently, when I was asked to review the Report for Commonweal magazine (Gans 1965) I suggested that the single-parent family was now, as in other societies with high male joblessness, adaptive rather than pathological. In addition, I made some specific economic-program proposals to reinforce the Report's understated thesis about the connection between family structure in the ghetto and its poverty and racial inequality.
When, forty-six years later—in a very different political context—I reread the Report in order to participate in a Columbia University faculty seminar discussing James Patterson's (2010) book on the subject, I was struck by its many shortcomings. However, my discussion is restricted to those shortcomings that I believe were avoidable when the Report was drafted, even under the conditions in which Moynihan and his assistants prepared it.
THE REPORT AS SOCIAL SCIENCE6
Thinking of the Report as social science is both inaccurate and unfair, for it is somewhere between a polemic and a position paper, with U.S. Census and other federal data as supporting evidence.7 It is unfair also because Moynihan was then not, strictly speaking, a social scientist. His PhD was in International Relations, then a professional rather a research-training program. Thus, his chapter on the New York Irish in Beyond the Melting Pot (Glazer and Moynihan, 1963) was not a social science analysis but primarily a discussion of the group's political history.
Unlike today's celebrants of the Report, Moynihan may not even have thought of the Report as social science analysis or a data-gathering enterprise. While he reported on the findings of some sociological and other social science authors, he was writing for an audience of policy makers and other public officials, not for social scientists.
Moynihan's initial knowledge of research about the Black community appears to have come from the work of Nathan Glazer (1963), who had begun his own discussion of the Negro family in Beyond the Melting Pot with observations on the female-headed family, illegitimacy, child abandonment, and related problems.8 For his observations on the harshness of American slavery, Moynihan drew from Glazer's (1963) recently written introduction to Stanley Elkins' Slavery. Beyond that, the Report included only brief quotations from the work of Franklin Frazier, Kenneth Clark, Thomas Pettigrew, Margaret Mead, and a few other social scientists.
In later years, some of Moynihan's writing appeared in academic books and journals, and he came to know and work with many important social scientists. Still, in 2000 his biographer and friend, Godfrey Hodgson, wrote: “He thinks anecdotally. He thinks in narrative … He is an intellectual … but not an academic” (p. 23). As quoted in Weisman (2010), Moynihan himself once wrote in the same vein, “I do not have the stamina for a professor. I can't study like that …” (p. 12).
In any case, the Report was flawed in a number of ways. First, Moynihan could even then have been criticized for failing to look at studies of the poor Black family and community other than those by Frazier (1939) and Clark (1965). For example, he might have quoted from Drake and Cayton's (1945) Black Metropolis which, in a few pages, offers a more comprehensive and balanced analysis of the situation of poor Black families.
Further, as an Assistant Secretary of Labor, Moynihan should have been able to obtain more recent analyses from the Black sociologists, most of them directly or indirectly connected with Howard University in Washington DC, who were then studying and writing about the Black community.
Second, and more seriously, Moynihan apparently looked at the poor Black population with a belief system which viewed any family form that did not include a two-parent nuclear unit as unstable and pathological. Moynihan must have known or could have found out that stability and family structure were not perfectly correlated, and that a two-parent family could be unstable and a single-parent one, stable.
Moynihan was aware that jobless Black men were not good candidates for marriage but he was seemingly blind to the effects of socioeconomic class on family structure. As a result, he failed to see that poor people lacked many of the material and nonmaterial resources that make a two-parent family possible, and that for poor Blacks, the single parent family was sometimes the only solution. He also did not consider the ways in which it was adaptive and in fact provided a modicum of stability for a population living under conditions of high economic instability.
Although little research had been done on the single-parent family when Moynihan wrote the Report, Black family researchers would also have been able to tell him that single-parent families were not necessarily single-parent households, and might have included a female grandparent or other relative. In addition, unmarried mothers often had some help from the fathers of their children and were surrounded by a familial support network.9
Moynihan could also have learned that the single-parent family was found in most societies in which large numbers of males were unemployed or underemployed.10 He must have known from his writings on the Irish that during economic crises husbands leave or are often pushed out of two-parent families. By describing a family structure that could be found in many economies suffering from male joblessness as pathological, Moynihan was in fact defining deviance up.11
Moreover, Moynihan did not seem to know that the children of single mothers were considered statistically normal and socially acceptable in the poor Black community. Instead, Moynihan viewed their legal status through the lens of White mainstream respectability, and saw it as an indicator of both family instability and pathology.
To be fair to Moynihan, he was not alone in making these observations and charges. In 1964, the year before Moynihan wrote his Report, the Harvard social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew published A Profile of the Negro American, the first two chapters of which reported many observations also found in the Report. Pettigrew's initial chapter also included a section on “family disorganization” (pp. 15–24) that covered much the same territory as Moynihan's report. Pettigrew's (1964) book was supported by hundreds of citations of other studies; some forty citations supported the nine pages on family disorganization alone.12
Even so, Pettigrew's analysis diverged significantly from Moynihan's. He used the term pathology only sparingly and framed his findings as reactions to what he called oppression, a term that covered everything from slavery to contemporary forms of racial and class subjugation and exploitation. The oppressor was White America, and although many of the studies to which Pettigrew referred identified or implied Black moral failings, Pettigrew—who is himself White—pointed the moral finger directly at the White oppressor.
Third, Moynihan misused the concept of pathology, treating it not as a synonym for individual or community illnesses and dysfunctions, but as a term to describe phenomena he considered socially or morally undesirable.13 Had he used the conventional definition of pathology, he could have described a number of social and individual pathologies found among the ghetto's poor, including chronic health and mental health problems, child abuse, alcoholism and other addictions, and interpersonal violence. Even in the 1960s, sociologists could have told him that these were far more likely to be caused by poverty and racial inequality than by the single-parent family, illegitimacy, and matriarchy, the latter another one of Moynihan's proxies for instability and pathology.
Moynihan misused the term further by describing the poor Black community as being enmeshed in “a tangle of pathology.” Since he did not describe what was tangled or explain the impact of the tangling on the poor Black family or the ghetto, the “tangle of pathology” became a synonym for social chaos; it was a sensational phrase that automatically attracted media attention.14
For Moynihan, the single-parent family seemed to be at the center of the Black community's tangle of pathology. He came back to it and to the subject of illegitimate offspring repeatedly; almost half of the Report's more than sixty tables and graphs were devoted to these two topics, while only six dealt with unemployment.15 Indeed, the Report's second chapter makes this point in its first sentences: “At the heart of the deterioration of … Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time” (1967, p. 51).
Fourth, the Report's causal analysis had a fundamental flaw: the absence of data on the effects of the poor single-parent family. No one had then done an empirical study that followed a sample of such families over a generation or more in order to measure pathological effects if any, and to determine whether these effects could be traced to the structure of the family rather than to its poverty or to what is now called racism. Consequently, Moynihan could not properly argue that the single-parent family played a causal role in the ghetto's “tangle of pathology.” He did so nevertheless, for he claimed to have found a self-perpetuating familial mechanism, what Clark (1965) called a “self perpetuating pathology” (p. 81) that would reproduce itself in the future.
As Moynihan (1967) pointed out in the last chapter of his report, “The situation may indeed have begun to feed on itself…. The present tangle of pathology is capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the white world” (p. 93). Despite the fact that he is now considered to have been prophetic, Moynihan never predicted that rates of Black single-parent-family formation would rise for the rest of the twentieth century and into the next.
In his report, Moynihan (1967) based the existence of a self-perpetuating pathology on his so-called “scissors” analysis, which showed in his Table 22 that from 1948 to 1962, unemployment and the number of newly opened Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) cases had risen and fallen in tandem, but that in 1960, 1963, and 1964, unemployment declined while the number of new AFDC cases increased (p. 124).16
The analysis, however, was unconvincing. Moynihan (1967) not only assigned great weight to a mere three years of deviant data, but here as elsewhere in the Report, he or his assistants treated a statistical correlation as a cause. Also, Moynihan should have known that the basic unemployment rate was too simple a measure to support a causal analysis. Earlier in the Report, he had mentioned low wages as one of the ghetto's employment problems, but the scissors analysis failed to indicate that even if poor Black men found jobs, most were neither well paying nor stable enough to enable the men holding them to marry.
Actually, Moynihan lacked the data even to hypothesize a self-perpetuating mechanism. When poor Black single parents produce another generation of such parents, the most likely explanation is that poverty and racism have continued and people continue to practice the coping patterns that have enabled them to survive. A self-perpetuating mechanism can only be posited if conditions change and people do not adapt: for example, if the many forms of racial and class inequality declined but the rate of single parent family formation in subsequent generations did not.
Moynihan's resort to a self-perpetuating pathological process became particularly noteworthy because in the late 1950s the anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1959), who had done fieldwork in Mexico, had come up with the notion of a “culture of poverty” which included the same mechanism.17 In 1965, Lewis's work had not yet obtained widespread public attention, but social scientists familiar both with Lewis's concept and the Report put the two together, and critics of both studies accused their authors of what William Ryan (1971) later called “blaming the victim.”18
Admittedly, Moynihan could not anticipate that his ideas would be associated with Lewis's work, but as an experienced public official who had been active in New York politics, he should have expected some of the other criticisms with which the Report was met. Consequently, one would have thought he would have had a draft of the Report read by representatives of the various constituencies in and out of the government who would be affected by it. They could have corrected factual mistakes and rewritten politically risky statements. As quoted in Weisman (2010), Moynihan himself wrote to a federal official in 1966: “The United States government is the most powerful research organization in the world. It can find out anything it wants to find out” (p. 130).
Perhaps Moynihan did not worry about potential criticism of the Report, since he wrote it solely for consumption inside the U.S. Department of Labor.19 Still, he sent it immediately to the Secretary of Labor, and must therefore have had plans or hopes that the Report or at least its ideas would receive wider distribution. Ultimately, in fact, some students of the period have reported that he himself released it to the press (Lemann 1991).
Since most of the contemporary celebrants of the Report are social scientists, they might be inclined to pay less attention to the Report's implications for social action or social policy. However, Moynihan (1967) used the final chapter of the Report to make “the case for national action” (pp. 93–94) although he did not propose specific programs to implement it.20
Outlining elements of a “national effort … to bring the Negro American to a full and equal sharing of the responsibilities and rewards of citizenship,” Moynihan (1967) suggested that federal programs should have “the effect … of enhancing the stability and resources of the Negro American family” (p. 94). Unfortunately, he did not spell out what he meant by a full and equal sharing of the rewards he had in mind. A literal such sharing would have implied the equality of results he urged earlier in the Report. If he had been more specific, he might have initiated an innovative public discussion which addressed, among other subjects, what resources had to be redistributed from and to whom.
In the mid-1960s, when the War on Poverty had not yet deteriorated into a skirmish, enhancing the resources of the family might have been politically feasible; in several places elsewhere in the Report, Moynihan indicated that greater male employment and better jobs could bring about the enhancement. Had he given more attention and space to these subjects, and written about them with the same rhetorical intensity he devoted to the single-parent family, the Report's conclusions about Black family pathology might have received less attention. Perhaps the Report would then have met with less criticism from the Black and liberal communities—and more importantly, with greater political support from the White House. Some employment programs might even have been initiated.
However, even Moynihan's (1967) hints about the desirability of such programs were partly neutralized by his cyclical argument, at the start of the Report's final chapter, that the ability to obtain jobs “reflects educational achievement, which depends in large part on family stability, which reflects employment” (p. 93).
Moynihan went on to indicate that where to break into this cycle was “one of the most difficult domestic questions” (p. 93), but framing the problem as a cycle without proposing a break-in point crippled the Report's potential contribution to national action.
Had Moynihan replaced the cycle with a more open-ended process model, he might have been able to suggest that the process could begin with job creation. He would have reinforced that suggestion if he could have shown that secure employment led to, or at least correlated with a higher rate of two-parent family formation.
Part of the Report's policy shortcomings must be attributed to Moynihan's emphasis on family stability, a condition neither he nor anyone else knew how to bring about. Even if he had in mind only the establishment of two-parent families, policy to encourage and help people to marry did not exist, although Moynihan exerted effort to make married, two-parent families eligible for welfare.21
Criticism of the Report's social policy discussion may be unfair to Moynihan, since at the time Moynihan wrote the Report, he was not a social policy analyst and might not have had access to one at the U.S. Department of Labor. Still, as an intellectual and a politician, he might have realized that federal officials should not advocate an end state like family stability unless they could also propose policies and programs that would achieve it.
The Report was officially forgotten soon after the White House refused to act on it. However, the debate over the Report continued for years afterwards, especially in the social science community, until it too shifted its attention elsewhere.
Moynihan himself supplied the first installment of the Report's aftermath. As indicated above, he was principally unhappy with social scientists for not undertaking research that would support his findings on the harmful effects of the single-parent family and the ghetto's tangle of pathology—what he called, quoted in Patterson (2010), “the great silence” (p. 105).
Moynihan's criticisms were unreasonable. He wanted researchers not only to become social critics of the Black community but to generalize about nonexistent data. Do children of poor Black single mothers grow up with problems that are caused purely by the absence of a male parent? To this day there is no persuasive evidence that they do. Also, not having yet been a grant-seeking academic, Moynihan may not have known that researchers or the agencies that fund them are normally not eager to explore a subject that the White House has determined to be a political hot potato.
Once Moynihan had joined the Harvard faculty, and especially after he had been named the director of the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies, he could have proposed studies to test the assertions he made in the Report. He could also have done so during his tenure at Harvard, later during his time in the Nixon White House, and in the quarter century he served as a U.S. Senator from New York.
I leave it to historians and citation analysts to determine the exact origins of the current celebration of the Report, but the phenomenon became visible in 1987, when William Julius Wilson praised Moynihan's work early in the first chapter of his now classic The Truly Disadvantaged (p. 4). Wilson then viewed poor Blacks as members of an underclass, and, like Moynihan, saw them as suffering from a self-perpetuating pathology.
More importantly, Wilson emphasized the connection between high male unemployment among poor Blacks and the prevalence of single mothers. Perhaps as a consequence, Wilson (1987) praised the Moynihan Report as “the only non-impressionistic study of the changing black family structure” and criticized “liberal scholars (who) shied away from researching behavior construed as unflattering or stigmatizing to particular racial groups” (p. 4).
The Truly Disadvantaged became, and remains, one of the most influential studies, if not the most influential study, of the poor Black community in America, particularly among researchers, policy analysts, and the political elite. Consequently, Wilson's praise of the Report may have returned it to public attention.
In 2002 just before Moynihan's death, Syracuse University, where he had finished writing his PhD dissertation, held a conference that presented a number of studies relevant to the Report (Moynihan et al., 2004). In 2007, the American Academy of Political and Social Science and Harvard University held a similar conference. The resulting issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science opened with Massey and Sampson (2009) describing the report as “the most famous piece of social scientific analysis never published” (p. 6) and suggesting that the purpose of the report was “to make an impassioned moral case for a massive federal intervention to break the cycle of black poverty …” (p. 6). The introduction to the Annals issue also reinvigorated Moynihan's attack on liberals and escalated the one on social scientists, claiming that “the calumny heaped on … [Moynihan and Oscar Lewis] … had a chilling effect on social science over the next two decades. Sociologists avoided studying controversial issues relating to race, culture and intelligence …” (Massey and Sampson 2009, p. 12). Subsequently, the Nobel prize winning economist James Heckman even described the critics of the Report as “venomous” (Heckman 2011, p. 72).
William Julius Wilson's (2009a) article in the 2009 Annals volume once more praised the Report as a “prophetic document” (p. 34), but also added a new theme, reinterpreting the Report as an early contribution to the cultural analysis of poverty. Wilson has long been concerned with the extent to which the problems of the poor Black community can be explained by “structural” causes (i.e., mainly economic and political forces and institutions), and how much by “cultural” causes which determine the ways people feel, think, and act. Even so, ultimately Wilson (2009b) has always concluded that structural factors have priority over cultural ones.
However, in discussing the Report, Wilson (2009a) suggested that Moynihan had already pointed to the role of cultural factors in Black poverty, describing Moynihan's analysis as being in part an “implicit cultural argument on the impact of black family fragmentation” (p. 40). Wilson reinforced his point by quoting Orlando Patterson's (2006) argument that the “deep-seated dogma against cultural analysis of the fragmentation of the black family … was caused in no small part by reaction to the Moynihan Report” (Wilson 2009a, p. 40). Wilson also supported Patterson's view that cultural factors play a significant role in understanding Black poverty as a whole, agreeing with his criticism that structural theorists show a “relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low income, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing” (Wilson 2009a, p. 40).
Orlando Patterson's criticism reflects the so-called “cultural turn.” This late twentieth-century intellectual movement which, in its sociological incarnation, has turned into cultural sociology, likes to claim that cultural analysis is better suited than structural analysis to comprehending modern society. I find it difficult to understand why the effects of slavery, long term male unemployment, low wages, poverty, and racial discrimination should be defined as cultural, especially since cultural sociologists cannot agree on a definition of culture (Small et al., 2010). When behaviorally defined, culture can be used to help explain the choices people make when they have options among alternative actions. The conditions under which poor Blacks have lived during and after slavery, and indeed for much of the twentieth century, did not give them much choice in familial and other survival methods.
When employed in poverty and antipoverty policy research, cultural analyses that downplay the relevance of economic, political, and related “structural” factors can be used to undermine the need for economic and other policies to fight poverty and discrimination. As Cohen (2010) points out, discussions of cultural analysis can even lead to revivals of culture of poverty concepts, although most cultural sociologists are careful to avoid reviving Oscar Lewis's much criticized concept (Small et al., 2010). Still, connecting culture and poverty enables conservative thinkers and apolitical researchers to avoid research and policy issues relevant to the struggle against poverty.
The most recent celebration of the Report, by James Patterson (2010), a well known historian of poverty, is mainly a detailed analytic history of the Report. The book also describes its more public aftermaths, notably Moynihan-like appeals for the nuclear family from comedian Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama.
James Patterson shares Moynihan's concerns with and characterizations of Black family and community pathologies, and devotes many pages to updating Moynihan's statistics to the present day; for example, the drastic rise in the number of single parent families and of jobless Black men. While James Patterson (2010) also feels that Moynihan has been unfairly criticized, his book discusses both the positive and negative aspects of the Report.
Given the Report's continued stream of admirers and their work, someone will most likely soon be planning a special celebration on its fiftieth anniversary. However, another replay of Moynihan's list of Black familial and communal pathologies is inappropriate. Instead, Moynihan could be honored by a comprehensive study of single-parent families from the gamut of classes and races to determine exactly whether, when, and how they are problematic and to what extent, if any, they pass problems on to the next generation. He might be honored even more by focusing attention on a previously ignored part of the Report: an exploration and elaboration of the equality of results—the idea that Blacks and Whites ought to be equal in income, rate of employment, education, civil rights, and other entitlements of being Americans—and of public policies that could move the Black community and the country in that direction.
If Moynihan's name and work retain sufficient political clout, perhaps they could be used to generate support for the job and income programs he advocated all his life. I am sure that if Pat Moynihan were still alive, he would work energetically for these policies.
1 The author is grateful to Merlin Chowkwanyun and Alice O'Connor for very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper and to Nathan Glazer, Nicholas Lemann, and James Patterson for answers to his several questions about the Report's history.
2 Although issued as a federal report by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1965, the Report was not actually published until it appeared in the first major study of the Report by Rainwater and Yancey (1967). Rainwater and Yancey published a true copy of the original Report which included its own paging, but my references are to the paging of the Rainwater and Yancey volume.
3 For the most detailed study of the creation and initial reception of the Moynihan Report, see Rainwater and Yancey (1967). The book also presents the authors' incisive analysis of the Report's rise and fall, the Report itself, as well as a collection of the official and unofficial documents and writings about the Report. Later histories and critical analyses of the Report can be found in several places, notably Steinfels (1979), Lemann (1991), and O'Connor (2001), still the most thoughtful critique of the Report. For a complete history of the Report up to the present, see J. Patterson (2010).
4 Although it ends in the late 1970s, the most incisive analysis of Moynihan's ideological positions and political stances remains that of Peter Steinfels (1979, pp. 108–160).
5 Strictly speaking, I am of course writing with hindsight but I believe that my memory of the relevant social science findings and ideas at the time is reasonably accurate. What hindsight adds, mostly, is the years of subsequent reflection as well as the knowledge of what has happened since the Report was written. My participation in the events following the release of the Report is described in Rainwater and Yancey (1967, pp. 195, 210, and passim) and in J. Patterson (2010, pp. 78–79).
6 For their analysis of the Report as social science and particularly of its implications for social science in the mid-1960s, see Rainwater and Yancey (1967, pp. 292–313).
7 Rainwater and Yancey (1967) had already described the Report as a polemic at the time, writing, “It is a polemic which makes use of social science techniques and findings to convince others” (p. 297). They argue further that Moynihan relied almost exclusively on government statistics because he wrote the Report for government officials, not for social scientists. Even so, a more academic companion piece to the Report, published about the same time in Daedalus and written in a less polemical style, was also filled with government statistics (Moynihan 1965).
8 However, in Glazer and Moynihan (1963), Glazer noted that “Broken homes and illegitimacy do not necessarily mean poor upbringing and emotional problems” (p. 50), although he then discussed problems associated with such homes.
9 Moynihan probably could have learned a great deal more about the actual functioning of the poor Black family from researchers and experts at various government agencies, including the Women's Bureau inside his own Department of Labor. However, whether by his own choice or lack of choice, Moynihan undertook to write a one-person report, not a departmental or an interagency one.
10 Moynihan himself grew up in a single-parent family during part of his childhood, although his father deserted the family for reasons other than unemployment and family finances. However, the family was solidly middle class, and his mother remarried later. Even as a single-parent family, it was poor only a short time. Many observers have noted this personal familial fact about Moynihan, but as far as I know, no one ever asked him whether and how this affected his writing, in the Report and elsewhere, about poor single-parent families.
11 Moynihan was here judging a normal adaptation as deviant, but later he coined and often resorted to the phrase “defining deviance down,” to criticize those who treated what he thought was deviant as normal or acceptable.
12 Interestingly enough, Moynihan cited only a paragraph of Pettigrew's nine pages in the Report.
13 I suspect Moynihan used pathology as a replacement for social disorganization, the term initially employed by the Chicago School of sociology to describe conditions deviating from WASP middle-class norms among Chicago's poor immigrants. Frazier was a member of that school and thus resorted to the phrase to describe the Black family in the Frazier quotation that Moynihan (1967) included at the end of the Report (p. 94). Moynihan may not have known that the phrase fell into disrepute long before he wrote the Report, when community researchers and others (Whyte 1943) showed that poor communities were organized differently than middle-class ones. This is not to say that poor communities were not also disorganized. However, the Chicago sociologists used social disorganization vaguely and promiscuously. If they or anyone else thought about specific and concrete proxies for community disorganization—such as miscommunication, incompetence, corruption, dysfunctional divisions of responsibility and labor, for example—poor communities likely would have been more disorganized than better off ones.
14 Moynihan took the tangle of pathology metaphor from Kenneth Clark's (1965) Dark Ghetto, although Clark used it only a couple of times to describe the interaction between individual and community pathology. More often he wrote about individual and social pathologies, as well as multiple ones, and he found pathology even in the “gilded suburban ghetto” (p. 108). Although Dark Ghetto reads like a scholarly study, Clark (1965) pointed out at its beginning that the book was not a “report … but rather the anguished cry of its author” (p. xx).
15 A further six dealt with unemployment and single-parent family relationships, three with Black fertility, and six with school performance-related data. The remainder were mostly background demographic information.
16 The analysis was so named because the decline of joblessness and the rise of AFDC applications were diverging like an open scissors. For the definitive critique of the scissors analysis, see O'Connor (2001, pp. 205–206).
17 Lewis's self-perpetuating mechanism was a set of values he noticed among young children, but Lewis had no data about whether the adults' behavior reflected the childhood values that Lewis saw, especially in communities which offered these adults the opportunity to escape poverty.
18 Moynihan later invited Lewis to join his year-long seminar on poverty, held under the auspices of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Lewis prepared a concise statement of the culture of poverty for the seminar volume (Lewis 1968), but Moynihan's discussion of the Lewis chapter in his introduction to the volume (Moynihan 1968) was carefully neutral.
19 Since Moynihan had already planned to resign his post to stand for a New York City Council election, he might not then have developed as much emotional investment in the Report—its tone notwithstanding—as he did later when it and he were criticized so strongly.
20 Why the Report did not include such proposals remains unclear. However, even before Moynihan had finished the Report, President Johnson had already indicated that little money would be available for the War on Poverty, and perhaps Moynihan's superiors at the Labor Department did not want to antagonize the White House by proposing costly programs. Nonetheless, Moynihan's (1965) Daedalus article was mainly about the unemployment and related economic problems of the poor Black population, and devoted only a couple of pages to what he now called “The Ordeal of the Negro Family.” However, he managed to include most of his Report argument about Black family instability and illegitimacy, including his description of the self-perpetuating pathology and the “scissors” analyses. Since the Daedalus article and the Report were written about the same time, it is worth speculating whether Moynihan should have used the former—with its emphasis on joblessness as the Department of Labor report; and the latter, with its emphasis on the poor Black single parent family, as the Daedalus article. Since that journal is written for and mainly read by an academic audience, such a switch might have reduced the public criticism leveled at Moynihan for his observations about Black family pathology.
21 In 2009, Moynihan's close friend James Q. Wilson, remembering his many years of discussion with him, wrote: “You might wonder what Pat Moynihan thought should be done about the family problem. He didn't know …” (J. Wilson 2009, p. 32).