Strengthening the black family

RECOGNITION of the importance of the family in American life has come from yet another direction, a national conference on the black family, and on ways to strengthen it. The decision to hold the conference, as well as the ideas that emanated from it, is further evidence of the increasing attention being given the family in the United States.

Several recent studies have concluded that the American family in general is gaining support, after years in which it was widely said to be losing influence. Three months ago a study found that young Americans generally have a positive view of their families, and consider them an important center of support. More recently another study reported that three-fourths of American teens say they have ''no serious problems getting along with any family members.'' Yet with the continued high rate of divorces and out-of-wedlock births, additional progress needs to be made.

The picture of the black family is similarly mixed. On the positive side, for many years black families have benefited from an informal support system provided by the extended families - grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so on. Under this system parents have been aided with everything from child care to financial aid to emotional support.

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In a narrower sense the black family, now increasingly studied after years of little attention, is in need of strengthening. Slightly more than half of all black babies are born to unmarried mothers, and more than two-thirds of all black families headed by single mothers live below the poverty line.

The conference concluded that the responsibility for aiding black families was shared. Conferees said government should do more, such as providing full employment and sufficient wages. Between government and private industry, participants added, child care should be provided.

Then they took a further step: They said that blacks should increase the help they give to other blacks to strengthen the black family. This view symbolizes the importance of individual Americans, irrespective of race, aiding those who are less fortunate, an American tradition. Helping to build stronger families is a responsibility shared, in very different ways, by family members, the extended family and friends, other individuals, private employers, and government.

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