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May 13, 2009
Column #1,446
(Second of two parts)
Marriage: An Issue for Conservatives
By Mike McManus

While 90 percent of America's best jobs require a college degree, 60 percent of children in city schools don't even graduate from high school.  This is not just an issue of the urban poor.  The U.S. ranks 49th in the world in literacy, and 28th out of 40 countries in math literacy.

The issue is not one of money. The Federal Government began giving major federal aid to help poor students way back in 1966.  "No Child Left Behind" was a major Bush initiative investing $24 billion a year.  Yet there has been no significant improvement.

Why?  It is time to acknowledge that the central issue of our time is the disintegration of marriage.  Children of divorce or of non-marriage are three times as likely to be expelled from school or to get pregnant as teenagers.  A federal study reported that children of single parents are 77 percent more likely to be physically abused than those with married parents.

A British study put the risk much higher: A child living with an unmarried mother is 14 times as apt to be physically abused by the mother.

In 2007 40 percent of children were born out-of-wedlock.  That's 1.7 million kids, up sharply from 1.2 million in 1995.  In that year, more than 60 percent of households were headed by married parents, but only 49.7% were married in 2005.

Divorce destroys one marriage out of two - the world's highest divorce rate. 

Therefore, what needed is a fresh focus on strengthening marriage.

First, we must increase the marriage rate among young couples by removing government subsidies that encourage having children out-of-wedlock. 

Why should the government reward single parenthood with welfare, food stamps, free medical care, housing subsidies, etc?  Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation estimates "The cost of subsidizing single parenthood is $280 billion. The people who receive these very large subsidies should no longer get one-way handouts."

He argues that food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and other subsidies should be conditioned on full-time work.  Sound familiar?  Welfare Reform changed the open-ended entitlement to a maximum of five years and required at least part-time work.

Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council says this system "is a massive injustice. Married people are the source of a massive transfer of payments to broken families. Those who stay together are also paying for those adults who do not do that."

He goes so far as to say, "Let those who have out-of-wedlock births pay their own costs of health, subsidized child care, etc. I am fed up with paying the cost of it.  The system is even unjust to kids born out-of-wedlock, who are not getting what they need to become an adult," the influence of a father as well as a mother. And most remain poor, despite the subsidies.

If their parents simply married, they would enter the middle class.

With a Democratic President and Congress, cutting benefits is unthinkable. 

However, what if marriage penalties were removed? A single mom earning $12,000 gets a certain level of benefits. But if she marries the man she's living with, she loses thousands in subsidies for food stamps, health care, and housing.  Why not give her the same level of benefits for two years if she marries?  Married men earn more, and the need for subsides declines over time.

Studies show the poor want to marry, but can't afford it. So let's remove the marriage penalty.

A second marriage strategy is to decrease the divorce rate by changing laws that reward marriage destruction rather than its preservation. Contrary to common assumption, divorce is opposed in four out of five cases by one spouse.  There's no major conflict in more than half the cases.

"Many are devastated to discover that they can be forced into divorce by procedures entirely beyond their control," writes Stephen Baskerville in "Touchstone" magazine. "Divorce licenses unprecedented government intrusion into family life, including the power to sunder families, seize children, loot family wealth."

Consider two facts: Each year 2-3 million restraining orders are issued to separate husbands from wives and to keep fathers away from their children. Yet half of all restraining orders do not include even an allegation of physical abuse. 

I have long argued No Fault Divorce laws should be changed if children are involved, to require the mutual consent of the other parent, unless a major fault (adultery, physical abuse) is proven.  Another essential reform is penalize spouses who file false restraining orders, perhaps reducing their share of family assets.

Reviving marriage could be a fresh issue for conservatives. 

"It is not good for man to be alone."

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