JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV)On Monday, State Auditor Shad White released a new report that shows Mississippi taxpayers will see an additional $700 million of current and future spending obligations as a result of fatherlessness.

“Mississippians know that engaged fathers are critical for the well-being of children,” said White. “The added discipline and income that comes from two committed parents is important for everyone to understand. But it’s particularly important for taxpayers to understand, because they often bear the cost of broken homes.”

According to White, the report is the result of combining expert research with data from Mississippi. This research concluded taxpayers pay a price when fathers abandon their children.

The report shows the following:

  • Fatherless children are less likely to obtain a high school degree. Taxpayers will likely lose $560 million due to the fatherless children who dropped out of school during the 2021-2022 school year alone.
  • Fatherless boys are more likely to go to prison than boys who have present fathers. Taxpayers in Mississippi likely pay $180 million each year to imprison fatherless male prisoners.
  • Fatherless girls are more likely to be teen mothers than girls with involved fathers. Taxpayers likely spent over $50 million on costs like increased foster care as a result of fatherless teen mothers in 2019 alone.

“I have single mothers in my own family, and they worked tirelessly to raise their children. This report doesn’t take away from their herculean efforts,” White said. “But men—and taxpayers—in Mississippi need to see the sad results when dads do not show up for their kids.”

In Mississippi, the Office of the State Auditor identified the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) as a program helping interrupt the cycle of fatherlessness in an August 2020 report. The program teaches high school students military history and provides structure, discipline, and physical exercise for its enrollees. In Jackson Public Schools, nearly 100% of JROTC students obtain a high school diploma despite a 75% district-wide graduation rate.

Representative Zakiya Summers (D-District 68) released the following statement about the auditor’s report.

We have seen a wave of efforts across many republican states to address the so-called fatherlessness issue. These efforts put value on traditional roles, but not on individuals nor lasting solutions.

The mission of the state auditor is to assess state and local government to ensure that public funds are legally spent, accounted for, and reported. I’m not certain why the auditor took it upon himself with the use of taxpayer dollars to study this issue and not offer any real solutions. The JROTC program is a fantastic program, but the Auditor will have to do better than that. We need real solutions and support from leadership to move the needle forward.

Fathers, dads, stepdads absolutely matter. However, this report and rhetoric regarding absent fathers actually stigmatizes working class families and fathers in particular. We cannot blame fathers for all the problems that children face nor the costs associated with incarceration.

If Mississippi wants to address the absent fathers issue, then this report is addressing it from the wrong end. Instead of looking at it as the sole issue that contributes to increased incarceration, a negative economy, teen pregnancy and increased crime, as the report indicates, we should investigate the issues that lead to fatherlessness in the first place and then put policies backed by equitable funding in place.

This report also ignores the range of forces that contribute to inequities and stamp policies and structures that continue to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots. By focusing on so-called absent fathers, we ignore the persistent oppression and disparities faced by marginalized communities.

Disinvestment in quality of life needs like access to clean water, racist drug laws, police brutality, the intentional dismantling of public education, the inability for children and families to access early childhood programs, food, healthcare and other basic needs is crippling and devastating.

In fact, Mississippi is ranked as the second worst state for childcare in the nation. What would happen if children woke up in homes with sound utilities and food on the table, went to high quality schools with teachers and counselors that have everything they need instead of police patrols meeting them at the door, lived in communities that have access to resources, good jobs, higher wages for working families, and in a state that refuses to put politics over people and perpetuate a biased narrative? Would we be talking about the problems this report cites? Would Mississippi still be the worst state to raise a family? Now that women have no autonomy over their own reproductive health, will we see an increase in fatherless homes?

This report and this idea prevents us from reckoning with what’s real and what can be done about it.

I want to see the auditor ensure that those who are taking money out of the mouths of our children are held accountable and that taxpayer dollars are not going to those who simply want to fatten their pockets or be utilized to paint a portrait that will not move Mississippi in the right direction.”

Rep. Zakiya Summers (D-District 68)