Friday, October 24th, 2014
True
Lemon
"More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock."

Don Lemon on Saturday, July 27th, 2013 in a commentary on CNN

CNN's Don Lemon says more than 72 percent of African-American births are out of wedlock

CNN anchor Don Lemon offered a commentary on race that went viral. We fact-checked a claim he made about out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans.

In the middle of a national conversation about race following the George Zimmerman acquittal, CNN anchor Don Lemon gave an on-air commentary that went viral on social media. The focus of the commentary was a five-point list of recommendations. "Black people," Lemon said, "if you really want to fix the problem, here's just five things that you should think about doing."

The No. 1 item on that list -- "and probably the most important," he said -- had to do with out-of-wedlock births.

"Just because you can have a baby, it doesn't mean you should," Lemon said. "Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues."

Lemon’s commentary inspired a firestorm of criticism on social media -- the website Mediaite published a sampling -- and bloggers took aim at his conclusions.

"If Lemon really wanted to help the black community, he could start by adopting a deeper understanding of the history, sociology and psychology of his own people," wrote Washington Post blogger Rahiel Tesfamariam. "Offering made-for-TV analysis about deeply complex social issues in the manner in which he did is irresponsible and lacks intellectual rigor."

We can’t check Lemon’s opinions, but we did want to take a look at the one verifiable fact he offered. Is it correct that "more than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock"?

We turned to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which publishes a report every year that includes a wealth of data about births in America. The most recent report, published in August 2012, is based on data from 2010.

The report broke down statistics by ethnic groups. Here’s a summary

 

Racial or ethnic group

Percent of births considered "non-marital"

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

17 percent

Non-Hispanic whites

29 percent

Hispanics

53 percent

American Indian and Native Alaskans

66 percent

Non-Hispanic blacks

73 percent

 

So Lemon is correct that "more than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock." To make sure we weren’t missing something, we asked two population experts -- Tom W. Smith, a senior fellow at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and Douglas Massey, professor at Princeton University's Office of Population Research -- and they agreed that the statistic is the best available.

Lemon did overreach somewhat when he went on to say that the 72 percent "out of wedlock" figure "means absent fathers." The 72 percent figure refers to children who are born to women who are not married; it would, however, include unmarried couples in which the father is present.

That said, the rate of African-American children living in single-parent homes is almost as high as the rate for non-marital births.

The chart below summarizes 2011 Census Bureau data compiled by Kids Count, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The group defined "children in single-parent families" as kids under 18 who live with their own single parent; it includes children living with a parent and a cohabiting adult, but it does not include children living with married step-parents.
 

Racial or ethnic group

Children in single-parent families

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

17 percent

Non-Hispanic whites

25 percent

Hispanics

42 percent

American Indian and Native Alaskans

53 percent

Non-Hispanic blacks

67 percent

 

We should note that this data doesn’t suggest that 67 percent of African-American children have no contact with their father (or a father figure), but rather that their father does not live in the same household with them.

Our ruling

Lemon said that "more than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock." Federal data confirms that 73 percent of African-American births in 2010 were out of wedlock. Estimates for the percentage of African-American children growing up in single-parent households are slightly lower, at 67 percent. Finally, black children counted in these statistics may have contact outside the household with their biological father. But Lemon's statistic was accurate, and we rate his statement True.