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Both Conservatives and Liberals Decry Rapid Increase in Single-Parent Families

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AS recent United States Census studies reveal further erosion of the two-parent American family, the tone of public talk about single parenthood appears to be shifting as well.

``You shouldn't have a baby before you're ready, and you shouldn't have a baby when you're not married,'' President Clinton told the National Baptist Convention in New Orleans on Friday, renewing a theme he has sounded before.

Nearly 30 years ago, a young bureaucrat in the Johnson administration named Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued a warning that with 1 in 5 black babies born out of wedlock, the decay of the black family augured social disaster.

Now the share of white babies born to unwed mothers has risen to that same level. Meanwhile, married black women are having far fewer children so that today 2 of 3 black children are born to single mothers.

Mr. Moynihan, now a Democratic US senator from New York, was roundly accused of attacking black families. And when Dan Quayle decried Hollywood two years ago for glamorizing television's ``Murphy Brown'' in her choice to have a baby out of wedlock, he was roundly ridiculed in the press and on entertainment television.

Last Thursday, Mr. Quayle repeated his views in a speech in San Francisco. But this time Mr. Clinton echoed many of the same points the following day in speech in New Orleans.

Last spring, The Atlantic Monthly ran a cover story titled ``Dan Quayle Was Right.'' In July, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala stated in a congressional hearing that no public official ought to condone out-of-wedlock childbearing.

``We have to work very hard at the cultural message,'' says White House deputy domestic-policy adviser William Galston, who works on family issues. ``We have to do everything we can to convince teens that teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births are the ticket to diminished opportunities.''

Dr. Galston cites the antismoking drives of a few decades ago, and the antidrug drive of the mid-1980s as examples of how social attitudes can shift as the result of what opinion leaders say.


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