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September 8, 2001
Column #1045

(First of a five-part series)

A MARRIAGE AGENDA FOR PRESIDENT BUSH

     On the 5th anniversary of Welfare Reform' passage, 400 government leaders from across America heard Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Wade Horn assess what has been achieved - and his challenge to finish the job by ''speaking the `M' word: Marriage.'' 

     Nearly three million families are no longer dependent on welfare -- a 58 percent plunge from the all-time peak of 5.2 million. Employment of single mothers, that had not changed from 1985 to 1994, rose by 30 percent. 

     As a result, child poverty rates which had increased between the late 1960's and mid 1990's despite growing prosperity - fell among African American children by 25 percent.

     This is wonderful news for those families and for America.

     However, illegitimacy rates have continued to rise, as they have for 60 years. As recently as 1960, only 5 percent of births were out-of-wedlock. That figure skyrocketed to 32.4 percent and 1,260,000 children in 1996. That figure rose to 1,346,000 in 2000, 33.1 percent of all births. That's 27.1 percent of white and 68.5 percent of black children, a figure ''unprecedented for any large subpopulation of any culture, ancient or modern,'' writes noted sociologist Charles Murray.

     Fortunately, the answer to this growing tragedy in America can be found in the Welfare Reform law itself which called upon the states to ''reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies'' and ''encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.''

     Clearly, the ''M'' word is the answer. We must increase the marriage rate and decrease the divorce rate, right? Not according to the Clinton Administration which issued a ''Guide on Funding Children and Families'' on welfare which interpreted the phrase ''two-parent families'' to include cohabiting parents, separated and divorced parents as well as married ones.

     What nonsense! Why would government ''encourage the formation and maintenance'' of separated, divorced or cohabiting parents? Such families are manifestly harmful to children As President George Bush said last year, ''We know that children who grow up with absent fathers can suffer lasting damage.''

     A child of a single parent is twice as likely to drop out of school, three times more likely to give birth out-of-wedlock, six times more apt to be in poverty or to commit suicide.

     Males from divorced homes are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than those from intact homes; those born to unwed parents are 22 times more at risk of being jailed.

     Further, as Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported in their landmark book, ''The Case for Marriage,'' married people are happier than those who are single, much healthier, wealthier, and live longer, and yes, have better sex. As Genesis put it, ''It is not good for man to be alone.''

     Speaking at the conference, I noted that President Kennedy set a great goal in 1961, to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The nation mobilized and 400,000 worked to achieve it in 1969. I urged President Bush to set three great goals to rebuild America's shattered families, inspiring goals that could be achieved by the year 2010:

1. Cut The Divorce Rate by 50 Percent. Two cities have nearly achieved the goal.  Modesto, Cal. (ironically, the home of philanderer Gary Condit) has seen its divorce rate plunge 47.6 percent since its pastors adopted America's first Community Marriage Policy (CMP) in 1986 with the stated goal, ''to radically reduce the divorce rate.'' More remarkable, Kansas City, Kansas and its two county suburbs had 1,520 divorces in 1995 before they passed a CMP, and in 1999 had only 863 divorces, a drop of 44 percent in only four years!

2. Increase the Marriage Rate by 25 percent. Again, Modesto shows this is possible.  Its marriage rate jumped 14 percent at a time the U.S. marriage rate was falling 18 percent.

3. Decrease the Out-of-Wedlock Birth Rate by 33 percent. In Modesto with 1,250 fewer divorces and 882 more marriages last year, more than 2,100 homes are keeping intact or are being formed annually. That means fewer children are at risk. Result? School dropouts fell 20 percent and births to teenagers by 30 percent, double the U.S. decline.

     If President Bush were to set those goals, the nation's 300,000 churches, synagogues and mosques will lead the way. As Wade Horn put it: ''We know that premarital education programs DO work. We know that programs assigning mentoring couples to newlyweds DO work. And we know that programs designed to save even the most troubled marriages DO work.''

     Future columns will give details.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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