Vice President Dan Quayle's statements concerning an episode of he "Murphy Brown" television program have highlighted a significant social and economic problem.

Bankers may not realize how great a threat this predicament poses to the operation and profit of their businesses,

As almost everyone knows by now, Mr. Quayle was critical of a program that, he said, glorifies the birth of children to unwed mothers. He was immediately ridiculed.

While the fictional Murphy Brown may be atypial of what Mr. Quayle was gettint at, the fact remains that the birth of childrent to unwed mothers ins part of the cycle of poverty that is becoming a problems of massive proportion in American society.

Several studies have highlighted the fact that income in the United States has become increasingly maldistributed in recent years.

Concentrations of Poverty

These studies include:

* "The Changing Distribution of Federal Taxes: 1975-1990," a forward look in the 1987 report of the Congressional Budget Office.

* "Background Material on Family Income and Benefit Changes," the Dec. 19, 1991, study prepared by the human resources subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.

* The February 1992 "Economic Report of the President."

The human resources subcommittee report convincingly demonstrates that from 1977 to 1990, the earnings of the wealthy increased at a much faster rate] than the earnings of the poor, who may have seen their income decline in this period.

Family Income

According to this report, 60% of American families earned less than the average family in the United States in 1990.

Surprisingly, if this subcommittee report is correct, all 60% of these families experienced real income declines in the period under study. The President's study does not confirm this last finding.

According to these reports, the reason for the growing disparity of income and wealth has been tax and welfare policies. Tax Tax rates have come down at a faster pace for those in the top brackets than they have for those at the lower end.

Further, welfare payments to the poor have been reduced so that tax deductions to the middle and upper classes (mortgage interest, health care premiums, pension set-asides, and capital gain exclusions at death) can be increased. In fact such middle-class benefits now exceed transfers to the lower classes.

More relevant to this discussion is the fact, confirmed in the Census Bureau study "Poverty in the United States: 1990," that households headed by unmarried women account for 17% of all families -- but 53.1% of the families below the poverty line.

Consider Mr. Quayle's comments relative to the fact that 33.7% of the families headed by unwed mothers lived in poverty, while only 5.7% of families of married couples found themselves in the same position.

Moreover, it appears that families headed by unwed mothers have more children than do married-couple families. And 40% of all people living in poverty are children under the age of 18.

The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that children living in poverty are 62% more likely to drop out of high school than their peers from two-parent families.

They are three times more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. They are more than twice as likely to give birth out of wedlock, as their mothers did, which will cause the problem of unwed mothers to accelerate.

Issues for Banks

This problem has several impacts on banks:

* Banks are forced by Community Reinvestment Act requirements to lend monies into the neighborhoods populated by the unwed mothers. The general deterioration of these communities erodes the collateral behind these loans.

In periods of social unrest (such as recently occurred on the Wes Coast), collateral is destroyed -- as is the ability of people to repay the loans from income.

* Banks are among the largest employers of people from disadvantaged areas, and the House Banking Committee is requesting that banks hire more people from these areas. The productivity problems caused by undereducated workers hurt the overall economy.

* Since the government attempts to keep bank branches functioning in poor neighborhoods, the banks' directly owned assets are at risk.

Overall, it would appear that there is a clear economic cost to banks from this problem in terms of higher-than-normal loan losses and lower-than-normal worker productivity. This is coupled with increased vandalism and more expensive security requirements.

Banks, therefore, must seek solutions to the problem highlighted by the Vice President. They must do this not only for social or legal reasons, but because it is clearly in their self-interest. One bank that has an innovative and progressive approach in this regard is Chase Manhattan of New York.

Through its philantrophic program, Chase contributed $8 million in 1991 alone. More interestingly, however, Chase donated over $38 million to education programs in the past 10 years.

Its mission statement indicates that the bank wishes to support "pre-college organizations or projects likely to make a lasting difference to reasonably large numbers of disadvantaged New York youth."

Chase also places special on "core reform of New York City public schools." It invests in New York's public libraries and a wide series of other public-education efforts.

Chase recently underscored the commitment of its top executives to improvement of educational opportunities in a full-page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal, signed by chief executive officer Thomas G. Labrecque.-

This advertisement emphasized the bank's participation in a Journal project. Chase will attempt to educate inner-city youths on the need for responsibilty in banking matters such as use of credit cards and mortgages.

Income, Education Linked

By emphasizing education, Chase is making the most effective use of its philanthrophic efforts. The studies cited above clearly indicate a correlation between education and responsibilty.

Educated people find jobs, increase their incomes, develop stable relationships, and contribute to their communities through their work and their neighborhood efforts.

The economic report of the President indicates that the average high school dropout has an unemployment rate five to six times greater than that of a college graduate.

Moreover, the income of the high school dropout has declined during the past 15 years; it is now only about 50% of that of the average worker who has education beyond the bachelor's degree level.

Room for Emulation

Chase's program is, therefore, well thought out and well directed to benefit its community. Other banks lacking similar programs would do well to emulate this institution.

More important, the United States government should give Chase and others Community Reinvestment Act credit for participation in educational activities.

Investment in human capital is far more important than tossing funds to inner-city recipients who lack the training needed to benefit from the funds -- simply to meet some silly CRA goal.

Dan Quayle is "right on" in tackling this issue, as is Chase Manhattan Bank. The jokesters would do better if they spent less time ridiculing those highlighting the nation's problems, and, instead, directed more of their efforts matching Chase's educational grants. They certainly have the money to make an impact.

Mr. Bove is a banking consultant with the Bove Group in Chatham, N.J.

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