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November 10, 2010

Column #1,524

Why Should Taxpayers Subsidize Cohabitation?

by Mike McManus

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away money from those who are willing to work and give it to those who would not.” Thomas Jefferson 

I wrote a recent column suggesting that cohabiting couples be encouraged to marry by proposing that if they did so, welfare, Medicaid and other subsidies would not be cut for a year, and then would be tapered off at 25% a year. Many couples would marry, cutting taxpayer costs. Here’s how to reduce huge state deficits.

After my column was published by The Baltimore Sun, with my email address, Harold wrote me, “Mike, my girlfriend who lives with me and I support (but not legally married) has my child, is she able to obtain any support from the state?

I responded, “No. The benefits are for single mothers with children whose income is below or near the poverty line…I assume your income and hers are well above the poverty line.”

He fired back a response: “Since she is unemployed and technically single could the child obtain some benefits?  My income is above the poverty line but hers is below.”

Reluctantly, I replied, “Yes, I think she would be eligible.  However, dare I say that the better answer for both of you is marriage. I wrote a book with my wife, “Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers,” which outlines the risks and myths underlying cohabitation, and our answer of taking serious marriage preparation, which is offered by various churches in the Washington area.  I could recommend them, if that is of interest. Nine out of ten cohabiting couples will break up before the wedding, or afterwards in divorce.”

Harold’s answer, which was fired back in 12 minutes, was disturbing.  It ought to be studied by every state legislator and Member of Congress:  “But why should I get married if the state will help raise my child?  The monetary benefit is more compelling than the commitment.”

 With federal and state deficits in the tens of billions, why should we be subsidizing moochers like Harold and his girl friend?

Last week Census released a report which estimated that 28 percent of the 1.5 million births to unwed mothers were to cohabiting couples.  I thought it odd, because the National Center for Health Statistics issued a study in February which stated: “By 2001, the majority of nonmarital births (52%) occurred within cohabiting unions, compared with the 33% of nonmarital births between 1980 and 1984.”

Census could not explain why its numbers in 2010 were about half of those a decade ago. Is Census correct? It was the first time its Current Population Survey asked unwed women if they were living together.  The NCHS data goes back decades.

NCHS estimated that a third of unwed births were to cohabiting couples three decades ago, when only 1.6 million couples were cohabiting.  With five times as many couples cohabiting in 2010, surely there could not be only 28% of births to unwed couples. There must be an error in Census methodology.

My question remains, why should taxpayers subsidize cohabiting couples? 

In Harold’s case, his live-in girlfriend, the mother of his child, has the benefit of his income, and does not need government subsidy.  Why should taxpayers give what the Heritage Foundation estimates is a subsidy of $28,000 to such a couple?

Welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, subsidies for day care and housing are based on the assumption that the mother is single, living alone, and needs support from the government to have a decent standard of living.

Of course, Harold will tell his girlfriend to apply for the goodies.  Why are our agencies foolish enough to give them?  I called top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, and no one would answer my questions.  

Therefore, in addition to offering an incentive for cohabiting couples to marry, I propose that birth certificates indicate whether the mother is cohabiting with the father.  If so, she should be ineligible for various government subsidies. If she lies, and it is discovered that she is living with the father or another man, all benefits should be cut immediately.

Taxpayers need a stick as well as a carrot.

America has seen the number of cohabiting couples soar 17-fold from 430,000 in 1960 to 7.5 million!  Stop the subsidies, and those numbers will plunge. Why fund more Harolds?

 Taxpayers will save billions.

And more couples will marry. It would make economic sense.

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