Marriage is antidote to poverty

    Poverty tightens its grip on America. The U.S. Census Bureau reports poverty increased to 14.3 percent during 2009 from 13.2 percent the previous year. The percentage of Americans living in poverty is the highest level since 1994.

    The Census Bureau reports one in seven Americans or 43.6 million people lived in poverty during 2009, up from 39.8 million during 2008. The poverty threshold for a family of four during 2009 was set at $21,954 by the federal government.

    So what are the solutions? Certainly, more jobs and more Americans staying in school and finishing their education come to mind.

    How about strengthening families and the institution of marriage? Marriage is directly linked to poverty. A new study by the Heritage Foundation calls marriage America’s number one weapon against childhood poverty. Conventional wisdom is that two-parent families have less susceptibility to poverty than a single-parent family. The Heritage Foundation study that relied on data from the U.S. Government, U.S. Census Bureau, and National Center for Health Statistics provides proof.

    According to the study, during the launch of the War on Poverty in 1964, a mere 6.3 percent of children in the U.S. were born out of wedlock. Fast forward to 2008 and four out of 10 births occurred outside of marriage. The study notes, “The War on Poverty led to the creation of more than three dozen welfare programs to aid poor persons. The government has spent $16.7 trillion on means-tested aid to the poor since 1963.”

    Odds are clearly stacked against single-parent families with children that are nearly six times more likely to be poor than married couples. Factors working against single-mother families are lower education levels of the mothers and lower income due to the absence of fathers.

    Married couples head about two-thirds of families with children in America. The other third are single-parent families. Nearly three-quarters of families with children in America that are not poor are headed by married couples. In comparison, a staggering 71 percent of all poor families with children are headed by single parents.

    Racial boundaries don’t exist with poverty.  The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Child Trends reports that according to U.S. Census Bureau data, children in single -parent households in all race/ethnicity groups are far more likely to be poor than children living in households headed by married parents:

    “For non-Hispanic white children, the poverty rate in 2007 was 32.3 percent for children in single mother households compared with 4.7 percent for children in married households.  Similarly for black children, the poverty rate was 50.2 percent compared with 11 percent.  For Hispanic children, the poverty rate was 51.4 percent compared with 19.3 percent. For Asian children, the poverty rate was 32 percent compared with 9.7 percent.”

    Three out of four unwed births occur, not to teenagers, but to young adult women between the ages of 18 and 29 according to the Heritage Foundation.  The poverty rate for a single mother with only a high school diploma is 31.7 percent. However, the poverty rate for a married couple family headed by an individual with only a high school diploma is 5.6 percent.

    An April 2009 report by the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison shows 41.8 percent of children in female-headed households (no husband present) in Wisconsin are living in poverty. The percentage for children in male-headed households (no wife present) is 19.3 percent.

    Consider marriage’s economic power. Marriage drops the poverty rate in America by about 80 percent among families with the same education level. In Wisconsin, the Heritage Foundation study finds marriage drops the probability of child poverty even further, by an incredible 89 percent. Single-parent families with children in Wisconsin are nine times more likely to be poor than families with married parents. Again, low levels of education coupled with lower income due to the absence of fathers are the main factors.

    The Heritage Foundation recommends the following to reduce child poverty:

    • Reduce anti-marriage penalties in welfare programs.
    • Establish public awareness campaigns about the value of marriage in low-income areas.
    • Require welfare offices to offer information about how marriage reduces poverty.
    • Teach about the benefits of marriage in middle and high schools that have a large portion of at-risk students.
    • Require federally funded birth control clinics to offer information about the benefits of marriage.
    • Require those clinics to provide voluntary referrals for life planning and marriage skills instruction to low-income clients that are interested.
    • Make voluntary marriage education readily accessible in low-income areas.


    Child Trends puts it more succinctly: “Support efforts to strengthen marriages and to decrease births to teens and unmarried women.”

    I do agree wholeheartedly.


    State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents Wisconsin’s 28th Senate District.

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