Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 October 2011
The Moynihan Report of 1965 will soon be fifty years old, and some social scientists now venerate it as a sterling application of social science data and analysis by the federal government. This author, who was directly involved in events connected with the release of the Report, does not agree; this article examines the shortcomings of the Report. I argue that Moynihan's analysis, which intended to investigate the ties between Black male unemployment and the Black family, actually devoted most of its attention to the high proportion of single-parent families in the poor Black population, treating it as one symptom of a “tangle of pathology” that stood in the way of this population's escape from joblessness and poverty. Today, the Report is being hailed as having predicted the current and still worsening state of the poor Black family. Moynihan's work is also being reinterpreted as an early application of cultural analysis, thereby further drawing attention away from the job-related issues which led Moynihan to undertake his study. Moynihan himself made significant contributions to antipoverty policy later in his career, but his Report does not deserve the worship it continues to receive.
The author is grateful to Merlin Chowkwanyun and Alice O'Connor for very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper and to Nathan Glazer, Nicholas Lemann, and James Patterson for answers to his several questions about the Report's history.