Moynihan Report

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The name conventionally given to the volume on The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, published by the US Department of Labor in 1965, and authored by the American social scientist and politician Daniel P. Moynihan.

Moynihan assembled what his critics subsequently claimed was a highly selective account of existing (mainly sociological) research into poverty in the United States. This seemed to place responsibility for being poor on the victims themselves, mainly because the ‘lower-class sub-culture’—in particular that of Blacks—was said to be dominated by ‘matriarchy’, emasculated males, educational failure, crime, delinquency, and drug addiction, all of which ultimately were attributable to the breakdown of the family structure. In the words of the report, ‘At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of weakness of the Negro community at the present time…The white family has achieved a high degree of stability and is maintaining that stability. By contrast, the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centres is approaching complete breakdown.’ Moynihan argued that ‘so long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself’.

The Report provided the basis for a presidential speech that established new federal policy goals, provoked a public political controversy, attracted a host of academic and other critical reactions, and became a prominent issue in the civil rights debate and movement. Much of the discussion and many of the issues were later restated in relation to the concepts of the culture of poverty, cycles of deprivation, welfare dependency, and the underclass. For a commentary on the Report and an assessment of its significance in shaping American public policy and race relations see Charles A. Valentine, Culture and Poverty (1968).

Subjects: Sociology.

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