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Ethics & Religion
November 9, 2016
Column #1,837
Stop Subsidizing Cohabitation
By Mike McManus


Americans elected Donald Trump as President. This column opposed him, but he's right about one thing: government subsidizes too many people who don't need it. I propose a solution that would result in more cohabiting couples getting married, building a healthier life for themselves and their children.

Susan and Bill are one of the 8.3 million couples who were living together in 2015. (That figure is 19 times the 430,000 who were cohabiting in 1960!) Susan gets pregnant, and tells Medicaid she needs help in covering her costs of delivery, and gets free coverage. When the baby is born, she is eligible for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid for her and her child till age 18, plus other goodies worth about $25,000 a year - because she is single.

However, Susan is not really single since she lives with Bill and has the benefit of his home and income. So she is "double-dipping," taking government money on false pretenses. She and Bill might like to marry, but if they do, she'd lose $25,000.

That's a major reason that America's marriage rate has plummeted 57% since 1970. In 1960, 72% of all households were headed by married couples. However, that dropped to only 48% in 2015. In fact there were only 2,077,000 marriages in 2015 - fewer than the 2,159,000 in 1970! If the same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970, there would be 1.3 million more marriages! The number of never-married Americans has soared 5-fold from 8.7 million in 1970 to 41.3 million in 2014.

Thus, as my wife and I reported in a book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers, cohabitation "is an invisible cancer at the front end" of marriage, diverting tens of millions from getting married at all. Why does government subsidizes this mess?

Surprisingly, cohabiting couples are as likely to have children as married couples. Census reported in 2015 that 39% of cohabiting couples had 3.25 million children. However in 2015 only 40% of married couples had children under age 18.

What's the solution? President Trump could say, "We want to encourage couples to marry rather than just live together. Children of married couples perform better in school, are far less likely to become delinquent or to have a baby out-of-wedlock as a teenager. Also, a married woman will live four years longer than an unmarried woman, men will live ten years longer, and their children, five years longer.

"Therefore, we will offer a deal for a cohabiting couple with child: Get married, and we will not cut your benefits for three years, and then taper them down over three more years."

"Also, as of next month, no new cohabiting couples will get subsidies as if the mother is single. We believe in marriage, and want to encourage it as what is best for everyone," Trump could say.

Forty percent of America's births are out-of-wedlock, up from only 5% in 1960. Our unwed birth rate is 20 times the 2% rate in Japan! Result: Japanese children reared by married parents, academically outperform American kids. Compared to children from 31 countries around the world on international math tests, U.S. scored at the bottom, 31st vs. 8th for Japan. Japanese kids were #3 in science vs. #24 for U.S. children. In reading, Japanese kids were third best, and Americans, 21st. Other Asian countries with low unwed birth and divorce rates scored as well as or better than Japan.

Children fare best if reared by their married parents. That's far more likely to happen in Asia than in America.

Globally, American kids are not competitive with other children. This academic failure forecasts ominous long-term implications for the viability of the U.S. economy.

However, if we increase marriage and decrease divorce, we can reverse present trends. An example can be seen in El Paso. As I reported in an earlier column, the pastors and priests of all major El Paso churches signed a Community Marriage Policy (CMP) pledging to do a much better job preparing couples for a lifelong marriage, enriching existing ones and saving those in crisis. My wife and I trained Mentor Couples to help.

El Paso's divorce rate plunged 79.5% from 1996-2001, the biggest drop of 230 CMP cities. So many kids were raised by their own parents that few became delinquent. El Paso has had the lowest crime rate in America for four years. There were only 5 murders in this city of 665,000 in 2010 compared to 310 murders in Detroit, with no CMP.

President Trump should stop subsidizing cohabitation and promote marriage.
Copyright (c) 2016 Michel J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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