September 8, 2001
(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'
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
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
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
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
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.