April 3, 2004
Welfare Reform Needs Healthy Marriage Initiative
This week the Senate began debating
re-authorization of Welfare Reform that includes a "Healthy Marriage
Initiative" to increase the percentage of couples who marry - and enjoy
healthy marriages. The House passed its version of the bill a year ago.
Only 54 percent of adults are married today and half of
new marriages end in divorce.
When Welfare Reform was passed by Congress in 1996, it
was denounced by Sen. Pat Moynihan as "the most brutal act of social policy
since Reconstruction." Marion Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense
Fund, called the law "an outrage...that will hurt and impoverish millions of
However, Welfare Reform has been spectacularly
successful at two levels. First, welfare rolls have plunged by 60
percent, as welfare recipients were required to go to work and day care was
provided for their children. Even during the recession, when experts
predicted that welfare rolls would grow again - they continued to fall.
Second, the poverty rate has fallen. In 1996, 40
percent of black and Hispanic children were poor. In 2002, the percent fell
to 31.5 among blacks and 28.6 of Hispanic kids. And the percentage of
single mothers in poverty fell from 50.3 to 39.8. People earn more
working than on welfare.
On the other hand, welfare reform had no impact on
out-of-wedlock births, which grew from 1.26 million to 1.35 million
children. A third of all births are now to unwed parents.
Therefore, President Bush proposed a "Healthy Marriage
Initiative" to reform Welfare
Reform that would earmark $120 million a year of federal grants to promote
marriage education and another $120 million a year if states put up $120
"The President feels strongly...about the need to
increase the number of children who are growing up in healthy, married
households. They do far better than on every measure of child welfare
compared to children growing up in unmarried households," said HHS Assistant
Secretary Wade Horn at a press conference Wednesday.
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback provided evidence: "Children
growing up without fathers are five times more likely to be in poverty, are
two to three times more likely to suffer from emotional and behavior
problems as teenagers and to drop out of school. They are more likely
to commit crime, engage in early promiscuous behavior and commit suicide.
"By contrast, marriage is a good way out of poverty. It
would lift 70 percent of those in poverty out of it if two people are
working in a family rather than one."
How marriageable are the poor, and are they even
"Fragile Families" research of 4,700 new and unwed
parents in inner cities found that at the birth of the child, half are
living together, and another quarter are romantically involved. Furthermore,
the fathers are much more "marriageable" than has been thought. Some 82
percent are employed and earn $17,500 on average. Two-thirds have at least a
high school education. Only 2 percent had hit or slapped the mother.
And most important, four out of five of mothers and
fathers are considering marriage. But a year after the child's birth only 15
percent are married.
The Healthy Marriage Initiative would provide funds to
help those couples improve their skills of conflict resolution so they might
actually marry - and be equipped to build a healthy marriage. Those skills
can be taught by mentor couples in churches for free. But for the
non-religious, counselors would be paid.
"The need is clear," observed Family Research Council
President Tony Perkins. "For
every $1,000 we spend on public programs addressing the breakdown of the
family, we only spend $1 trying to prevent that breakdown in the first
place. The President's initiative puts the emphasis in the right place -
The funds can also be used to help those in the middle
class build, enrich and restore
marriages. This is a way to prevent families from falling into poverty.
However, passage of welfare reform with the Healthy
Marriage Initiative ground to a halt Thursday when Republican leaders were
unable to get 60 votes to cut off debate. Democrats who opposed the
bill in 1996 oppose this bill too. However, they know if they were recorded
as voting against a bill to strengthen marriage, that would not look good.
So they filibustered.
It is tragic that partisanship kills this bill
that could lift millions out of poverty.
30+ Years / 1700+ Columns
2017: Column 1861: Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part II
Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part I
Texting While Driving - A Killer
Why Have "Religious Nones" Tripled?
Norma McCorvey Roe of Roe v. Wade
The Worst Valentine: Cohabitation
Pornography: A Public Health Hazard
Christianity Gives Women Equal Opportunity
Sextortion Kills Teens
Assisted Suicide Is Growing
same sex marriage,
abortion and infanticide,