May 31, 2003
Should Those on Welfare Be
Encouraged to Marry?
Ever since President
Bush proposed adding $300 million to welfare reform to promote marriage,
critics on the left have scoffed. Such a policy heightens risks for abuse of
women said the National Organization for Women.
Others argue there's
a substantial shortage of suitable males to marry, since so many are in
jail. Alternatively, some critics postulate that if women married the
fathers of their children, the father's earnings are so low the family would
remain in poverty.
Foundation has issued a paper that definitively deflates such arguments,
"Increasing Marriage Would Dramatically Reduce Child Poverty." It is based
on a "Fragile Families" study of 4,700 new and mostly unwed parents which
found that half of unwed mothers are living with the father at their child's
birth; another 23 percent are romantically involved.
The new fathers are
not bad prospects for marriage. Two-thirds have at least a high school
degree; 97 percent were employed during the past year, earning $17,500.
Physical abuse is rare. A full 98 percent of women say they have never been
Rector calculated the "reduction in poverty that would occur if non- married
women married the fathers of their children around the time of the child's
birth." It focused on 73 percent of couples who were cohabiting or were
If the mother
remains single and unemployed - the old norm for most welfare recipients -
"they will be poor 100 percent of the time" because welfare benefits average
$8,800, far below poverty.
If the mother
marries the child's father, only 35 percent remain in poverty. "In other
words, nearly two-thirds of the non-married fathers earn enough by
themselves to support a family." While she loses welfare benefits, their
median family income rises by $11,400 to $20,200, including an Earned Income
Tax Credit (a cash payment) and food stamps.
If the woman works
part-time after the child's birth, usually 20 hours per week, she pushes her
income up to $13,500. About 55 percent remain in poverty. If she marries,
the family income jumps to $23,500 - enough to raise 83 percent above
Finally, if the
mother works full time, her total income as a single person averages $17,500
which puts her and her child above the poverty line. (That's why the 1996
welfare reform, which required welfare recipients to get jobs, reduced
welfare rolls by 54 percent - also lifted 3.6 million Americans above the
poverty line. Poverty among blacks is at an all-time low.)
If a mother who
works full-time, marries, her family's income rises to a middle class
Some 95 percent of
the couples "believe that there is at least a 50/50 chance they will marry
in the future." Yet only 9 percent will actually marry within a year of the
The mystery is why
do so few marry? Kathryn Edin of Northwestern University interviewed 75 of
the "Fragile Families" in depth and discovered that during courtship, a
young man tells a young woman, "I want to have a baby by you." She finds
that flattering. While she began using birth control in her relationship,
she may stop. "Pregnancies are not exactly planned, but neither are most
avoided. The bulk are unplanned, but not accidental," she says.
After the child's
birth, a high point in the relationship, the men drift off in a year or two.
Therefore, the Bush
Administration is seeking $200 million from Congress, to be matched by $100
million from the states to support research, demonstrations, evaluations and
technical assistance to help those couples create a "healthy marriage."
Dr. Wade Horn,
Assistant Secretary of Health & Human Services, says the money would not be
used for a "federal dating service," or to "trap anyone in an abusive
relationship." Rather, the funds could be used to teach skills to improve
communication and resolve conflict that would make the relationship happier
and lead to a healthy marriage. Horn says, "Government should be in the
marriage business because it is an effective strategy for improving the
well-being of children."
"The Lord God said
`It is not good for the man to be alone,'" reports Genesis.
Yet nearly half of
American adults are alone. "Marriage is central to the nurture and raising
of children. It is the `social glue' that reliably attaches fathers to
children," write David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. "It contributes
to the physical, emotional and economic health of men, women and children.
It is also one of the most highly prized of all human relationships and a
central goal of most Americans."