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72nd Annual Human Service Institute Lecture

On Tuesday, October 21st, we attended the 72nd Annual Human Services Institute lecture in the Scott Auditorium at Metrohealth in Cleveland which was put on by the Center for Community Solutions. The featured speaker was Dr. Isabel Sawhill who was here to discuss her latest book, "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage". Dr. Sawhill is the Co-Director of the Center on Children and Families and the Budgeting for National Priorities at the Brookings Institute. Dr. Sawhill contends that unwed teenage pregnancy is actually down at its lowest level since data started being collected at the end of World War II but it is up with those in their twenties. She shared statistics that showed that 40% of children in the United States are born outside of marriage and when the mother is under thirty the number climbs to 50%. The problem is that the relationship between the mother and father is often fragile and the chances are that the couple will split after five years of being together. The things that are driving the changes in the family structure are more employment opportunities for women, declining prospects for men, the availability of contraception and abortion, and changing social norms.

This is important because Dr. Sawhill's research shows that children do better in two parent families; adults in stable marriages tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer; the family breakdown is leading to a new class divide and less social mobility; and the costs to society by way of social services, education and safety net. In terms of whether or not the family breakdown is causing poverty or vice versa, Dr. Sawhill believes that we must work on both problems. There is, however, a definite disparity regarding educational resources available to children born to high/middle income families and those born to low income families.

Dr. Sawhill talked about the difference between "planners and drifters". The "planner" finishes college, gets a job, gets married and has children in that order. The "drifter" finishes high school, moves in with his/her boyfriend/girlfriend, has a child, then breaks up and starts all over in another relationship and possibly has another child. What's more, 60% of births to women under thirty are unplanned. Dr. Sawhill stressed that the most prevailing solution to this is effective birth control and more information about it. She talked about several projects that have been successful in Colorado, St. Louis, and Iowa.

She said that there are several "inconvenient truths" that society must face if it is to successful tackle the problem which include an early, unplanned birth affects the child's chances of success; cohabitation is no substitute for marriage; more stable marriages are those that come later in life such as couples who get married in their thirties; and that children are expensive to have, perhaps $500 hundred thousand to $1 million dollars to properly raise and educate one child.

In terms of what society or the government can do to assist families, Dr. Sawhill advocated more career counseling and technical education; raise the minimum wage to $10.10; and expand the earned income tax credit; expand access to effective contraception and have it be at no cost. She praised the work of Community Solutions because they look at all aspects of the problem and stressed that there was no "magic bullet" for any of this.

We were impressed by Dr. Sawhill so we looked up her biography at the Brooklings Institute website and found that, "Isabel V. Sawhill is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. She serves as co-director of the Budgeting for National Priorities project and co-director of the Center on Children and Families. She holds the Cabot Family Chair. In 2009, she began the Social Genome Project, an initiative by the Center on Children and Families that seeks to determine how to increase economic opportunity for disadvantaged children. She served as vice president and director of the Economic Studies program from 2003 to 2006. Prior to joining Brookings, Dr. Sawhill was a senior fellow at The Urban Institute. She also served as an associate director at the Office of Management and Budget from 1993 to 1995, where her responsibilities included all of the human resource programs of the federal government, accounting for one third of the federal budget."

Dr. Sawhill was introduced today by Ms. Elizabeth Allen; Vice President of Marketing and Research for the Metrohealth System; who said that she would buy a copy of Dr. Sawhill's book and give it to her daughter, who just got married, for Christmas.

We spoke to Dr. Sawhill about immigration reform and found out that, just as we do, she supports the compromise immigration bill that was passed by the U.S. Senate but stalled in the U.S. Congress. Also just like us, she is very concerned about the plight of the children on the U.S./Mexican border. We both hope that the situation in the U.S. Congress changes after the November, 2014 election but we both are not so sure that it will.

Among the people that we talked to at this program were Mr. John R. Corlett and Ms. Karen Cook who both work in the Government Relations and Community Affairs division of Metrohealth. Mr. Corlett is the Vice President and Ms. Cook is the Manager of the Community Health Advocacy Project. We also talked to Ms. Melissa Federman from the Center for Community Solutions who gave the "Welcome" for the program and had a good conversation with Ms. Sherri Clayton of the Euclid Collaborative and Ms. Tiffany Scruggs with University Settlement who have hands-on experience assisting with the low income and the impoverished.

So, all told, we found the program very sobering but also very necessary. On a lighter note, we got to sit next to our good friend, Mr. Ed Jerse. We always enjoy visiting with Mr. Jerse and he had some keen insights about the November, 2014 election. As a person of conscience, he also appreciated the program very much.

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