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DEADBEAT DEAD END

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Several states are now considering laws that would take away the drivers' licenses of parents who refuse to pay child support. Fair enough. But Americans shouldn't kid themselves that any tactic to put the squeeze on these deadbeats - most of whom are dads - will do much more than prevent the economic status of affected kids from decaying any further.

The reason is quite simple: Deadbeat Dad's identity has been changing over the years. Today he is a far more elusive character than he used to be. In fact, he is far less likely to be burdened by court-ordered payments. Even if he owes payments, he may well be more determined to sidestep them somehow.Blame this on the explosion of never-married parents. As recently as 1979, 19 percent of all fatherless homes in America already were the result of unwed parenthood. That figure has ballooned in intervening years: to 30 percent by 1990 and to roughly a third today.

In short, enforcement efforts are important, but they chase a moving target. So long as illegitimacy continues to explode - the portion of births to unwed mothers could nudge 40 percent by decade's end - even the best collection efforts will amount to running in place.