September 21, 2010
The Cause of
Poverty: Marriage Absence
By Mike McManus
Last week the
Census announced that America’s poverty rate had increased to 14.3 percent
in 2009 with 44 million people, up from 13.2 in 2008 and 40 million people
blamed America’s high unemployment rate for the problem. However, though the
jobless rate doubled in a year from 5 to 10 percent, poverty increased only
The primary cause
of poverty is not joblessness but marriage – or rather, marriage absence.
Indeed, the Heritage Foundation published data last week: “Marriage:
America’s No. 1 Weapon Against Childhood Poverty.”
“Marriage Drops the Probability of Child Poverty by 82 percent.”
However, 36.5 percent of families headed by a single mother were poor in
2008 while only 6.4 percent of married, two-parent families are poor.
marriage rate has plunged 51 percent since 1970.
that children of unwed parents have soared eight-fold since 1960 when only
five percent of births were out-of-wedlock, to 40.6 percent in 2008. A
third of America’s children live in unmarried families, seven-tenths of whom
absence should be a major political issue in the current campaigns for
governors, state legislators and even Congress.
absence is driving federal and state deficits,” says David Usher, President
of the Center for Marriage Policy in St. Louis.
coverage, personal bankruptcy and home loan defaults are infrequent problems
for married couples. Children raised in intact families are the last to get
in trouble, flunk out of school, join a gang, have babies, become chronic
substance abusers, or grow up to be criminals.”
What can be done
to reverse these trends? Heritage suggests federal strategies:
Reduce anti-marriage penalties in welfare programs. Why
should the government reward single parenthood with welfare, food stamps,
free medical care, housing subsidies, etc? Robert Rector of Heritage
estimates that "The cost of subsidizing single parenthood is $280 billion.
The people who receive large subsidies should no longer get one-way
handouts." He asserts those subsidies should require full-time work.
Welfare Reform took that strategy, reducing welfare rolls 60 percent.
Require welfare offices to provide
factual data on the value of marriage, and require federally funded birth
control clinics to provide information on benefits of marriage.
contrast, the new Center for Marriage Policy is recommending initiatives
that could be taken by state government.
State Rep. Cynthia Davis, the Center’s Executive Director, says present law
provides “perverse incentives” to destroy rather than preserve marriage.
For example, she tells of a woman who was “poisoned by her friends to get
out of the marriage. They said she could get custody of their child, which
comes with a big lump of money, plus she got her husband to pay her lawyer’s
fees. Their child was a teenager who did not want to live with her mom, but
her dad, which she did. But the mom got a court order for him to pay child
support to her anyway.”
To put it
differently, the state provides incentives for marriage destruction, not
marriage preservation. Hundreds of studies prove that couples with enduring
marriages are happier, healthier, live longer, and have more sex and better
sex. (See “A Case for Marriage” by Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite.)
introduced a bill requiring that couples with children agree on the divorce,
unless fault (adultery, abuse) is proven - a reform of No Fault Divorce I
have called Mutual Consent. Why? She says, “It is simple. If there are
children, more people are involved. Mutual Consent would breed more
stability for society in general.” The bill did not pass, but she was
term-limited and will be out of office next year. As the Center’s Director,
she can pursue legislation as a private citizen, yet with a knowledge of
people and issues that only a former legislator would have.
reform that could cut the divorce rate is to require divorcing couples to
live apart for a year if there is Mutual Consent, and two years if
contested. Maryland, Illinois and Pennsylvania have such a law and their
divorce rate is HALF that of 9 states with No requirement to live apart (NH.
TN, ID, FL, OR, NM, WY, NM, and KY). Why? If couples have to live apart for
a year, many couples decide to reconcile before the divorce takes effect.
Center President, charges “The welfare state is eating Missouri alive. The
cost to taxpayers of marriage absence is at least $1.3 billion per year. A
sensible marriage policy could reduce illegitimacy and divorce by half. The
deficits will abate when marriage is restored.”