At Dissent Magazine, Alan D. Aja, assistant professor of public and urban policy at Brooklyn College on both presidential candidates’ oversimplification of the problems single parents—particularly low-income ones—face:
We do need strong, stable urban communities with healthy institutions and cooperative community-to-policy level actors. But the real danger lies in expecting that behavioral modification or a simple switch of cultural values will somehow mitigate the debilitating trauma, stress, and other daily challenges that urban families face. We can’t propose marriage as a solution to urban poverty and violence against a backdrop of unequal resource distribution and wealth disparities. Marriage won’t magically release a spouse from prison serving under draconian mandatory minimum sentencing laws or provide a mother with gainful employment and housing, especially given the policy-driven barriers one must face with a criminal conviction. Marriage won’t undo the reality that communities of color are heavily policed and consistently subject to racial profiling, or that adolescent behavior is criminalized at a young age. Marriage won’t solve the problems plaguing public schools, from larger class sizes, culturally biased high-stakes (standardized) testing, zero-tolerance policies, and other factors that perpetuate the well-documented “school-to-prison pipeline.” And marriage won’t solve the problems that come with a lack of access to health care, rapid gentrification, environmental racism, and outright discrimination in the housing and labor markets.
Our young people cannot rely on platitudes that life will be better if only they “pull up their pants” and form a more perfect union. They need our leaders, from the grassroots to the federal level, to acknowledge the concrete barriers to equality, to rally the public, and to muster the political will to undo mass incarceration and provide gainful employment, adequate education, and affordable housing to those who need it most.