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October 19, 2010

Column #1521

Incentives for Cohabiting Couples To Marry

By Mike McManus

            If I were running for governor in my state of Maryland, here’s a speech I would give this weekend, injecting a fresh idea into the campaign.

“I will propose a new law to encourage cohabiting couples to marry.  Most out-of-wedlock births are to couples who are committed enough to each other to live together.  These births are not to couples in one-night stands.  However, most cohabitations end within 18 months. 

“Census recently reported that 7.5 million couples are living together in 2010.  This is a 17-fold increase from the 430,000 who were doing so in 1960.  Yet only 1.4 million of those couples will marry.  Four of five cohabiting couples break up before there is a wedding.

“In addition, according to a Penn State study, couples who marry after living together are 61% more likely to divorce than couples who remained apart until the wedding. 

“Half of cohabiting couples  said they were `testing’ the relationship or were in a `trial marriage.’”  However, that’s a myth.  Cohabitation is more like a trial divorce, in which nine out of ten relationships fail.  They will either break up in a premarital divorce or in a real one.

“For Maryland this is not an academic question.  Divorce and unwed births are the two engines driving up the costs of government.  It is one of the major reasons for the yawning deficits Maryland and other states face.

On average, each divorce involves one child. The unwed or divorced mother of a child is eligible for welfare, Medicaid, housing and day care subsidies, food stamps, etc.  According to the Heritage Foundation, the 13 million single parents with children cost taxpayers $20,000 each, or $260 billion in 2004. That is probably $300 billion today.

“What does this mean for Maryland?  Of the state’s 78,100 births in 2007, 41% were to unwed mothers, above the national average.  Those 32,000 babies have the worst possible future prospects in life.  If the baby’s father is living with the mother, the odds are 80% that he will leave her and the child.  But what if the couple marries?  More than half will divorce, and that child will be abandoned by one parent.  Maryland had 15,200 divorces last year, which probably involved one child each.

“Therefore taxpayers face a cost of $640 million a year for one year of out-of-wedlock births and $304 million more per year for the state’s divorces, or about $1 billion for each added year!  These huge costs are 61% federal and 39% state.

“The costs go far beyond these numbers, both to the children and to the state. According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, children from fatherless homes are:

·         5 times more likely to commit suicide than those from intact homes with married parents

·         7 times more apt to become teenage mothers or to drop out of school

·         15 times more apt to end up in prison as a teenager

·         33 times more likely to be seriously abused, requiring medical attention

·         73 times more likely to be killed

“If elected Governor, I will make it my priority to reduce this carnage.  How?  Here are some ideas:

1.      I will create a Maryland Marriage Commission.  It will include key church and government officials plus leaders in the marriage movement.

2.      No Cost Government Measures: I will require state welfare offices to provide information on the value of marriage in reducing poverty and increasing wealth, happiness and longer lives. (For example, married men live 10 years longer than single men, and women, 4 years longer.) Publicly funded birth control clinics will provide information on the benefits of marriage. Public schools can make a case for not having children until marriage.

3.      Reduce Anti-Marriage Penalties:  Currently if cohabiting couples marry, they lose welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc. I propose to extend state benefits for a year if they marry and agree to take courses to improve their communication and conflict resolution skills.  That will encourage many to marry, which is what is best for them and their children.  After that year, I will taper off subsidies by 25% per year.  Since married men earn more than single men, they won’t need subsidies long term.

“In time, government costs would drop by huge amounts, perhaps half of the current outlays, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

                “Maryland can be the first state to reduce cohabitation and raise the marriage rate to give our children and their parents a brighter future.  Thank you.”

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