A reader with experience as an inner city social worker points out that Steven D. Levitt is the Elvis of Economics in more ways than one:
A couple of further observations on abortion and crime:
First, it's fascinating to see Conventional Wisdom taking shape right before my eyes. Usually the process is not nearly so obvious, and has to be pieced together after the fact.
Second, reading about Levitt's theory that abortion cuts crime by culling unwanted babies reminds me of that old Elvis Presley song called "In the Ghetto." It went:
As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago morn
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
Remember that one? It's the one where The King showed how sensitive and politically aware and stuff he was.
What the fans of Elvis and Levitt fail to get is that poor women don’t necessarily see their situation the same way middle class folks do. They may actually love their little bastard babies!
Middle class types see poor unwed teenage mothers as Scum of the Earth and a Terrible Social Problem. But poor women don’t see themselves that way. Instead, they think of themselves as human beings facing the age-old challenge of getting along in the world -- and, if they're lucky, passing their genes on to the next generation.
Unbelievable, I know. But bear with me for just a minute and try to see it from their point of view.
If you're a young underclass woman, one of the first things you notice is that there are not many marriage-worthy men in your social milieu. A whole lot of them are unemployed or in prison or dead.
So even though you may want to get married, you figure your prospects are pretty dim. If you wait to marry before having children, you probably won't have children.
You might as well have them now because, well, why wait? You're not getting any younger. More to the point, your mother and other female relatives are not getting any younger. And since they're the ones you'll have to rely on for child care and support, it's important to have your kids before they develop Type II diabetes and kidney failure and all the other health problems that tend to afflict black underclass folks more than white privileged types.
Will having kids hold back your career? Well, if you have an IQ of 80 and are looking for a reason to drop out of high school anyway, then no.
You’ve probably already figured out that your prospects of a good job are dim, and getting dimmer by the day, especially with immigrants flooding in by the millions to take the few jobs you're qualified to do.
So for you, its not a choice of a ghastly life as a welfare mother or good life in the burbs. Fate and the immigration mavens have already decreed that you will get mostly crumbs from America's bounteous economic table. The only choice you have is between a crummy life with kids or a crummy life without kids.
Your lack of career prospects just makes having kids look that much more attractive. Children are about the only thing you can produce that people will view as being truly valuable.
Besides, if you can't count on a spouse for love and companionship, kids become doubly important because they'll be the only family you’ve got.
So becoming a single mother makes quite a bit of sense to you. You realize it’s a scary prospect and a hard life, but what are your options?
You may not exactly be looking to get pregnant, but when it happens -- well, is it really all bad? Lots of others have done it before you. In fact, in your neighborhood, girls who have babies out of wedlock are becoming the norm.
The only people who can't seem to grasp what is going on here are the Really Smart Guys. Even though it should be getting pretty obvious by now, especially since the black illegitimacy rate is close to 70 percent. Admittedly, most of these out of wedlock pregnancies may not have been "planned" or "intended" in any sense that a middle class observer could understand. But that doesn’t mean they're necessarily "unwanted."
Seen from this perspective, poor women who have abortions are likely to be the strivers and achievers. They're the ones who see some prospect of improving their lives, and realize it may hold them back if they have five kids by four fathers. They're the ones who are trying, in their own way, to make good.
Inability to grasp what is wrong with Levitt's argument seems to be a case of "I'll see it when I believe it." Maybe all the bright guys who can't believe what's going on in the underclass world should ditch Elvis and listen to Fantasia Barrino sing:
Nowadays it's like a badge of honor
To be a baby mama...
Cause we the backbone of the hood.