Doug Ducey’s plan to help poor single mothers is to further subject poor young men to prosecution

Ducey single moms

The final debate for Arizona Governor between Democrat Fred DuVal and Republican Doug Ducey was held in Scottdale on Tuesday afternoon. It was a debate on “women issues” hosted by various local organizations. Questions about a number of topics ranging from the budget to energy to water were posed to the candidates and it wasn’t until the end when both men were asked questions thought to be specifically pertaining to women. The final question before closing statements was a very good one, about how each would help struggling single mothers in Arizona, many of whom head families living in poverty. (I can’t embed the video but you can view the entire debate here.)

When it was Ducey’s turn, he seemed a bit uncomfortable with the question and launched into his usual empty argle bargle about “growing the economy” But about halfway through he got quite focused and animated as he launched into a rant on “deadbeat dads”, as if he’d just then remembered his debate coaching.

It’s my philosophy that if you are old enough to father a child you are old enough to financially take care of that child and I will use the power of the Governor and law enforcement to garnish those paychecks and make sure those dollars get to those single mothers and there’s some responsibility for these actions.

Now, I realize there are some fathers out there who deliberately shirk their financial support obligations. and that’s a problem, but note Ducey’s formulation here: His comments are aimed directly at young men and his use of the phrase “law enforcement” seems deliberate because who are the young men in our state who regularly face law enforcement? I definitely got the sense that you were supposed to picture certain young men there, if you know what I mean.

The internet is a cesspool of misogynist and MRA garbage where the topic of child support is concerned but it is possible to find clear-eyed, rational treatments of it, such as this NYT piece by Eduardo Porter in which he criticizes an enforcement model that is overly punitive, outmoded, and ineffectual:

For years, policies to help disadvantaged children have been designed to provide as little help as possible to their estranged parents. Mothers benefit from support programs like the earned-income credit and public housing only to the extent that they are caring for children.

Noncustodial fathers have been treated exclusively as sources of cash, subjected to things like wage garnishment or incarceration to enforce child-support orders that can remain in place even when fathers lose their jobs or go to jail, making little allowance for fathers’ ability to pay.

Many don’t. In 2011 some 5.6 million mothers were due child support but only three-quarters of them received any, according to census statistics. Fewer than half received the full amount due. In 2012, the Office of Child Support Enforcement logged 11.5 million cases in arrears, worth a total of $114.6 billion.

Reliable support from fathers can clearly improve the lives of children and their mothers. Still, there are adverse consequences from pursuing it at all costs. Studies suggest that strict enforcement of child support reduces the employment rates of young black men, driving them into crime and the underground economy. And mothers and children often gain little when public assistance is proportionately withdrawn.

Incarceration rates have multiplied by five over the last 35 years. Most of those imprisoned are young black men. More than half have young children. When they get out, their chances of finding a job will be minimal. But their child-support arrears will be waiting.

In Arizona it is likely that poor Latino and Native American young men are the ones disproportionately targeted by harsh child support enforcement. Ducey claims that there is $1 billion in uncollected child support in our state but that figure tells you nothing about how much of that can be pinned directly on irresponsible young men (hanging around the street corner with their sagging pants and rap music, no doubt) willfully withholding payments from the poor single mothers of Arizona. Parents at all income levels can be “deadbeats” but efforts to collect from them, as difficult as they are, are more likely to succeed with noncustodial parents who actually have the means to pay when they are finally made to do that.

Basically, Doug Ducey is engaging in the kind of feel-good “tough” sounding rhetoric that sells well in an election (his “deadbeat dads” remarks were a soundbite on one local news broadcast later in the evening) and appears to be supportive of women. He is not, however, proposing anything meaningful to help single mothers and their families living in poverty in Arizona. Ducey is certainly clueless about how to help poor young men with no prospects.

4 Responses to Doug Ducey’s plan to help poor single mothers is to further subject poor young men to prosecution

  1. Donna, these things didn’t happen in a vacuum. The laws regarding deadbeat dads were the result of a vest amount of lobbying by your predecessors for the government to do something about them. So the governments at all levels finally did something and passed the laws that you are now complaining about. You are pointing out one of the great problems with government solutions: the government doesn’t use subtle gestures to solve an issue, it uses a “one size fits all” sledge hammer.

    Do these laws help single Moms, or do they hurt them? I suspect a little of both. After all, there are millions of single moms of varying degrees of economic circumstance, and each has her unique situation. How does one law, no matter how carefully crafted, serve them equally?

    • Donna Gratehouse

      My point was that Ducey was engaging in empty rhetoric to look “tough” and concerned about poor single mothers when I guarantee he has no interest in them except to make their lives harder.

  2. He was talking about enforcement of wage garnishment. Wouldn’t enforcing wage garnishment require that there be legal consequences for the deadbeat parent?

    • Donna Gratehouse

      Well Sarah, the NYT column I posted explains how that’s not really workable where poor people are concerned. But I do appreciate you weighing in with your concern and your support for Doug Ducey.