Conservatives, like Lincoln, may be down to one desperate last trump card. Addressing fatherlessness, unwed pregnancy and divorce is the higher and greater cause that conservatives should champion.

Children in father-absent homes are two to three times more likely to:

•    Be victims of child and sexual abuses.
•    Do drugs.
•    Experience educational, health, emotional & behavior problems.
•    Become teen parents.
•    Engage in criminal behavior.

The news gets even worse. Children in father-absent homes are twice as likely to end up in jail. Sixty three percent of youth who commit suicide come from father-absent homes. Seventy one percent of high school dropouts come from father-absent homes. Nearly 75 percent of children raised in homes without fathers will experience poverty before the age of eleven, compared to 20% of those raised in two-parent homes. Government’s cost to support a fatherless family is $55,000 per year. Today 40 percent of all American children will go to sleep in father-absent homes.

In 2010 there were 1,633, 471 out of wedlock births in the United States. Teen births put mothers at high risk for poverty. Eighty percent of teen mothers, eighty percent, become lifetime welfare recipients. Children of teen moms are more likely to become teen parents themselves, and the cycle of poverty becomes generational and vicious. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, an independent, non-profit health research organization, has estimated that America’s extraordinarily high rate of teen births costs the taxpayer $9.1 billion per year and the costs to the institutions of society as a whole are more than twice that amount. 

In 2010, between 850,000 to 950,000 couples in the United States filed for divorce. During the same year, the nation’s divorce-to-marriage ratio was approximately 70 percent. According to a study conducted at the University of Utah in 2006 by Dr. David Schramm, each divorce costs approximately $30,000 in added social services to local communities as parents, especially divorced mothers, turn to government-funded programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) for assistance.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that a report released in October of this year by the Congressional Research Service indicates that, at $745.84 billion per year, welfare programs have surpassed Medicare and Social Security as the largest federal budget item.

But, there is a flicker of hope from the private sector. In 1997, a group of civic leaders in Chattanooga, Tenn., came together to form a community-wide initiative to rebuild, renew and revitalize their city by restoring families. Called First Things First, they set three strategic goals to reduce fatherlessness, unwed pregnancy and the divorce rate all by 30 percent in ten years.  After 15 years they have seen a 27 percent decrease in the divorce rate, a 63 percent decrease in teen out of wedlock pregnancies and a significant increase in father involvement in the lives of their children. By persuasion and encouragement within their communities they harnessed the power of the private sector, not legislation or government, to achieve this goal. 

Statistics show that success in the pursuit of happiness is far more difficult without a solid foundation built by a child’s biological parents from the beginning of life. Statistics also show that children who are fortunate to have this foundation are less of a burden on government. Chattanooga is proving that the private sector can strengthen families by reducing fatherlessness, unwed pregnancy, and divorce. This is where the path to less government begins.

Government can only exacerbate this moral dilemma; it cannot put an end to it. But Americans willing to address the cultural issues of fatherlessness, unwed pregnancy and divorce through private initiatives in every community can. If they do, they will be on the side of the angels. They will win the hearts of the American people, heal our divided nation, reduce government and preserve our role as the beacon of freedom and liberty in the world. Responding to this higher cause and implementing this grand idea is the conservatives’, and the nations’, last desperate trump card.

Former California Congressman George Radanovich served 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives until his 2010 retirement. He recently established The Four Institutions foundation and Restore Fresno. He also published “The New World Order is the Old World Order. Skip Strathearn contributed to this article.