Saturday, September 02, 2006

Promote Marriage to Reduce Poverty

Ten years ago welfare reform legislation was passed by the Republican Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. The legislation established work requirements and caps on benefits. This legislation finally acknowledged that there was indeed a link between poverty, fatherless families, children born out of wedlock and the decline of the work ethic. Since the passage of this legislation in 1996, child poverty among African-Americans has fallen to its lowest level in history. There are 1.5 million fewer children in poverty today, but many problems remain and marriage is the unfinished business of welfare reform.

Daniel Patrick Monihan was among the first government leaders to recognize and address the negative consequences of welfare dependence and the dissolution of the family. In 1965, Moynihan was the Assistant Secretary of Labor in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. Moynihan was a committed liberal, but he came to be skeptical of the ability government programs to solve the problem of poverty. He published a report that noticed a disturbing trend in the black community in America. Despite desegregation and efforts to ensure equal opportunity, welfare dependence was on the rise among blacks, Moynihan and his fellow researchers pointed to the disintegration of family as a major cause.

Moynihan called for upholding the “social ideal” in public policy which was the married two-parent family. As Moynihan said, “The principal objective of American government at every level should be to see that children are born into intact families and that they remain so.”

Here is part of the prophetic warning from the Moynihan Report:

“Indices of dollars of income, standards of living, and years of education deceive.… The funda­mental problem…is that of family structure. The evidence…is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling. A middle-class group has managed to save itself, but for vast numbers of the unskilled, poorly educated, city working class the fabric of conventional social relationships has all but disinte­grated.… So long as this situation persists, the cycle of poverty and disadvantage will continue to repeat itself.” [1]

Unfortunately, his words have proved all too true. When the Moynihan Report was released, one out of four black children was born to an unwed mother. As late as 1970, marriage was still the norm in the black community. In 1970, 64 percent of all black adults over 18 were married. And that num­ber was not dramatically lower than it was in the general population at the time, which was 72 per­cent. But by 1980, only 51 percent of black adults were married, and by 2004 that had dropped fur­ther to 41 percent. Today, two out of three black children are born outside of marriage. During the 1970s we saw the percentage of children born to unwed African-American mothers jump from 35 percent to 55 percent. The problem of single parenthood is not limited to the African-American community. The out-of-wedlock childbearing rate is at 25 percent for whites, 45 percent for Hispanics, and 68 percent among blacks.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a prophet, but as with many prophets, his message was not very welcome at the time and went largely unheeded. An acrimonious debate followed the Moynihan report. Many misread the report as “blaming the victim.” The charge was unfair. Moynihan clearly indicated the role that slavery and discrimination had played in harming the black community. Moynihan discussed joblessness and discrimination facing blacks, especially men. He noted the growing gap between girls and boys in terms of education and money earned. (Girls, as they are now, were doing much better). He talked a lot about the lack of education, the high rejection rate from the military, high crime rates, but also on the victimization experienced by blacks in that period. Finally, he commented on the role of the family.

The criticism focused on his remarks about the dissolution of the black family. Despite the criticism, Moynihan kept writing and talking about the problem of the collapse of the family, particularly within African-American com­munities, but increasingly within all ethnic groups, but most liberal social scientists were intimidated. They avoided further research on the topic, for fear of being labeled as racists. They avoided describing any behavior that could be construed as unflattering or stigmatizing to racial minorities. Some claimed that the disintegration of the family was a result of low wages and high unemployment among black men. But as wages went up, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s, this is exactly when the black family started to disintegrate and out-of-wedlock childbearing rose.

The Moynihan Report was not debated as much as it was disparaged and ignored. The “debate” began a paralysis of political correctness that continues, to some extent, to this day. The disintegration of the family as a root cause for the inability to rise from poverty was largely ignored until the 1990’s. Now even liberals will occasionally venture to talk about the problem. For example, in 1996 Hillary Clinton wrote, “Every society requires a critical mass of families that fit the traditional idea, both to meet the needs of most children and to serve as a model for other adults who are raising children in difficult settings. And we are at risk of losing that critical mass today.” [2]

Dr. Wade Horn is the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Horn was recently at a conference on new strategies for reducing poverty at the University of North Carolina. Former Senator John Edwards was the moderator of the conference, and after his talk on why marriage is important in the context of anti-poverty strategies, he remarked, “I agree with everything that Wade Horn just said.” And then he added, “And that really, really worries me.” It probably worries him since most liberals still are hesitant to talk about the problem fearing criticism from fellow liberals who are still inclined to regard criticism of single parent families as antiquated, even bigoted.

Until recently, social theorists and government operated on the principle that the only distinguished the poor from the middle class was the amount of money they had. So, they though, if you just provided money to the poor that would solve the problem. It was a very appealing policy since it didn’t require confronting issues of family structure and other social problems. Forty years of experience has shown us that this approach not only doesn't work, it has been disastrous, trapping generation after generation in a cycle of poverty.

Some social scientists proposed other solutions, which took family structure into account, but they found it very difficult to eliminate financial disincentives to marry within the existing system of welfare benefits.

One approach tried by Congress and various Presidents were initiatives aimed at reducing out of wedlock births and single parenthood. But these initiatives focused mostly on providing birth control, which tended to increase sexual activity outside of marriage and led to increased pregnancies that ended in either abortion or more non-marital births. At the same time increased benefits were given to single parents that created an incentive which encouraged single parenthood.

It is difficult to eliminate negative incentives to marriage while at the same time maintaining the social safety net. What makes it so difficult is that you phase out benefits as people do better financially. Marrying a partner who works means adding an extra earner to the family. Adding the extra earner means that benefits are phased out more quickly. If there was no social safety net, there would be a financial incentive to marry, but if getting married means a loss of benefits than adding the extra earner is not much help. Starting in the 1960’s, it’s almost as if government told poor people to stop getting married. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) guaranteed a woman a lifetime entitlement to cash as long as she had a dependent child. But she was told if you work or marry someone who is working your benefits will be cut off.

One of the goals of the 1996 welfare reform legisla­tion was to increase the proportion of children who grow up in healthy two-parent families, and it is not possible to accomplish that goal simply by shifting single mothers from welfare into work. Many of the union formation trends are moving in the wrong direction. They are shifting away from stable mari­tal unions toward less stable non-marital unions. Moreover, these trends are becoming deeply en­trenched among young adults.

One of these trends is unwed childbearing: 1.5 million children were born out of wedlock in 2004, which is an all-time high. There has been a steep and recent increase in the proportion of women in their ’20s having unwed births. These years used to be the prime marrying years for women. But now women in their ’20s are forgoing marriage and hav­ing babies on their own, and there has been a cul­tural shift that supports this trend, once women are past the teen years. This is not a teen pregnancy problem; only about 14 percent of these non-marital births occur to girls under 18. It is really a crisis in the relationship of young adults, and primarily low-income young adults.

A second trend is the rise in cohabiting unions with children. Over 40 percent of cohabiting households today include children. Some cohabit­ing parents plan to marry; others have no plans to marry; still others are thinking about marriage. But what we can say with confidence is that cohabiting unions are not like marital unions. They are more likely to break up over a shorter period of time, more likely to involve infidelity, and more likely to pose risks of domestic violence, child abuse, and the like. So again, if the goal is healthy two-parent families, this is a troubling trend.

The third trend is what researchers call multiple partner fertility: people have children with more than one partner. And here again there is a stark contrast between the unmarried and the married couples. In almost 60 percent of unmarried couples who have a child together, one or the other partner has a child from another relationship. But in almost 80 percent of married couples who have a child together, neither partner has a child from another relationship. Many problems arise for children due to this new trend. It is more difficult to enforce or establish paternal responsibility, there is more likely to be conflict within the current rela­tionship, and there can be difficulty in trying to navigate past relationships and co-parenting. The man who is most likely to be committed to a specific child is the man who is the biological father of that child. It is most likely to be a step-parent or boyfriend that abuses a child than a biological parent.

What the trends of unwed childbearing, cohabitation and multiple partner fertility have in common is the loss of the social norm of a family which begins with a marriage between a man and a woman who then have children.

Since the 1996 welfare reform legislation there has been some good news and some not so good news. The good news is out-of-wedlock births have declined. In the African-American community in 1995, the per­centage of black children born out of wedlock hit a record 70 percent. It has dropped every year since then, and although not huge drops, it is now at about 68 percent. A study by the late Paul Offner in Social Science Quarterly documents the decline in unwed motherhood among poor teens, and it dem­onstrates that the decline is at least in large measure the result of provisions in the 1996 law.[3]

The bad news is that we are in danger of losing the idea of marriage as an important social institution in America. Accord­ing to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey, more than half of high school seniors agree with the statement “having a child out of wed­lock is experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle and not affecting anyone else.” According to another survey, close to 60 percent of 15–17-year-old teen­age girls approve of unwed childbearing. That figure rises to 73 percent among teen girls ages 18–19. In 1995, 43 percent of adult blacks were mar­ried, and today 41 percent are married. Why should it be that the out-of-wedlock birth rate among teens is dropping, but we are not seeing an increase in marriage? We have convinced people that it is a bad idea to have a child in your teens. However, we have not con­vinced them that it is a good idea to be married before you have children.

On March 26, 2006 the Washington Post ran an article by Joy Jones who was teaching a class career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington. She was pleasantly surprised when the boys talked about the importance of being good fathers. She assumed they hoped one day to marry and raise a family, but with further discussion she discovered that the boys had no intentions to marry. One boy in the class explained why. He said "Marriage is for white people." Yet according to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Ph.D., the Co-Director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, recent ethnographic studies show the ideal and aspiration to marriage remains very strong for women in communities with low marriage rates. The problem is that most see the ability to achieve married parenthood as beyond their grasp.

Many young wom­en tend to be pickier about the man they would marry than about the man they would have a child with. So we see this split between marriage on the one hand and parenthood on the other. We have to begin to bring the two together. Going forward, the most important goal of welfare reform is to reestab­lish the norm and the achievable possibility of mar­ried parenthood.

We have established the idea that if you have children, you have the responsibility of working and supporting those children. The next step is to establish the norm of married parenthood—that is, if you want children, you should be prepared to form a healthy and stable marriage first.

Dr. Horn recommends reading Kathy Edin’s book, Promises I Can Keep, on young single mothers in urban areas. This book shows that poor mothers want what most other women want in society. Most of them want to be married, to have a house in the suburbs, two kids, a dog, and a minivan. The problem is that they have absolutely no practical plan to get there. We need to find opportunities to intervene with a positive and instructive message that will help young women to see the ideals and design a path­way to accomplish those ideals. The earlier we intervene, the better.

The second thing that we learn from this book, unequivocally, is that these women very much want to have children. Children are the center point of their lives. Liberals complain about lack of access to birth control. This is completely irrelevant. The mothers have all the birth control they could want, they know all about it, but they are having children because children are absolutely essential to their vision of what they want to be and to their life fulfillment. The problem is that they have the sequence mixed up.

Most middle class, couples generally begin by forming an attachment to each other, followed by commitment, followed by marriage, and then hav­ing children. In low-income groups today, that sequence has been reversed and the couple starts by having a child, then the mother seeks commit­ment—not necessarily to the father of the child. He may not what she considers marriageable material. Then, she ultimately seeks marriage perhaps 10 or 15 years down the road. This is a matter of attitude and per­ceptions. These young women do not see that sequence as in any way abnormal. Most peo­ple, liberal or conservative, can see that that sequence is a disastrous one. But we do not com­municate that message to the young women who need to hear it.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “The decline of marriage is a terrible thing and I don’t have any idea what to do about it.” But I think there is a lot we can and should do to promote marriage.

1.) We must promote chastity. Chastity is not just a religious virtue. There are good secular reasons for it as well. Abstinence before marriage is the best way to avoid an early unwed pregnancy. Young women who avoid sexual activity before marriage are more likely to finish their education and gain decent employ­ment. If they can do these things they are more likely to find a suitable marriage partner.

2.) We need more marriage education programs before marriage. Marriage programs can begin to teach young people about how to form and sustain healthy relation­ships. These programs could begin as early as middle school, in order that kids will have the skills, knowledge, and ability to build a foundation for future marriage. Young people need to learn what constitutes a suitable marriage partner. We can help young people to seek marriage partners who are of good character, reliable, faithful and who intend to marry. We need to help young women realize that having a strong, committed rela­tionship with the father of that child will be the key to the success of that child. We also need to spread the word about how marriage helps men. They live longer. Their work effort increases. Their earnings increase as their work effort increases and they mature in marriage. Not everyone can be helped by marriage education programs, but the over­whelming majority of the couples that are having children out of wedlock can and should be helped.

3.) We can also reach couples in fragile fam­ilies, cohabiting, or otherwise in a romantic rela­tionship, who want to marry and have the capacity to form healthy marriages to acquire the skills and tools and knowledge to do so. Today the popular culture creates unrealistic expectations about what marriage is and what it entails. If people’s expectations are too high they become overly selective. This may drive more people toward cohabitation, particularly as “trial marriage.” And unfortunately the more trial marriages you have, the less likely you’re going to have a marriage that these marriages will last. Studies have also shown that people who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced.

We need to provide programs that young woman people information about life skills planning, marriage, and relationship skills. The program could begin by asking about their life goals and plans. Most of them would have pretty conventional life plans. We could then encourage them to build the skills to achieve those plans. Most women will want children. Obviously they don’t want their children to be poor. We might then say tell them that a child that is born and raised outside of marriage is seven times more likely to be poor than not. What may seem like common knowledge to most people is something many poor people can’t relate to because it is outside of their experience within their local community. We need to talk with them about where they want to go and what sequence of choices they need to make so they are able to give their children all they hope for them.

4.) Faith based initiatives promoting marriage need to be encouraged. As Christian values have declined, we have seen a decline in marriage. Those who attend church are much less likely to become pregnant outside of marriage. Young people who go to church, it not only has a positive impact on them, but they actually have a positive effect on their peers. Dr. Wade Horn’s Healthy Marriage Initiative is building coalitions of pastors and other faith-based groups to come together around this issue in their local communities. Many pastors feel overwhelmed by the problem. It’s very diffi­cult to stand firm on this issue if two-thirds of your parishioners have had children out of wedlock. Pastors need to support one another. Government also has a role to play in promoting healthy marriages.

5.) Young people need help in finding good marriage partners. Too many young people are unable to meet the members of the opposite sex in their local social net­works who would make good marriage partners. Virtually every society helps to match young men and women for the purposes of marriage and parenthood.

6.) When we speak of these issues we should avoid the use of the term “committed relationship and use “marriage” instead. If we’re afraid to use the word, we shouldn’t be surprised if the institution disappears.

7.) As Moynihan said, “the principal objective should be to see that more children are born into intact fami­lies and remain so.” Dr. Wade Horn oversees $46 billion, part of a $2 trillion federal budget. $100 million of this is spent to fund the Healthy Marriage Initiative. This amounts to one penny spent to support marriage for every $15 we spend to support single parenthood. He suggests that we need to integrate the idea of marriage into all of the social programs that support low-income families. It’s not the amount of money that is so critical. It is recapturing the idea that marriage is fundamental to the social good, and encouraging healthy marriages is an important objective of gov­ernment policy.

8.) Help should help men to become more attractive as marital part­ners. Job skills education and job training should be incorporated into marriage preparation programs.

9.) We can promote apprenticeship. In the last several decades is that the age at which men reach a higher earnings level has gone up and the age of sexual activity has gone down, so there is a big gap between when young people are having lots of sex and the time when they can really afford to have children. Young men are not making enough money to from families. Apprenticeship helps young people develop positive relationships with responsible who can share their wis­dom and who can encourage young people to prepare for the future.


In 1992 there was a popular television show in which the main character, Murphy Brown, played by the actress Candace Bergen, had a child which she planned out of wedlock. On May 19, 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle criticized the show’s producers promoting out of wedlock child birth and ignoring the importance of fathers. Most liberals were enraged and attacked Quayle in the media viciously. But Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote an article in The Atlantic entitled “Dan Quayle Was Right”.[4] The popular culture is as hostile as ever to marriage and responsible parenthood. One popular show, Friends, portrays a youthful mating culture where people just exchange sex partners.

Dan Quayle was right when he criticized the popular culture and it’s attitudes toward marriage and fatherhood. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was right when he said that marriage matters and family matters. What Moynihan said about the black family now pertains to all families. Marriage is important not only as an expression of the love and affection that two people have for each other, but also because it is critical to the common good in our culture and society. The main problem behind out-of-wedlock childbearing and the decline of marriage is a matter of attitudes.

Marriage is the unfinished business of welfare reform. The new provisions of the Tempo­rary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) are a good start. For the first time, federal tax dollars are being spent to focus on helping couples form and sustain healthy marriages. This is a dramatic shift in social policy. Just ten years ago it was impolite to even use the word “marriage,” and now $100 million in the federal budget is dedicated to promoting and encouraging marriage, but much work is yet to be done. It starts with each one of us daring to challenge “politically correct” ideas that have damaged our society. The dissolution of the family has led to a lack of self esteem in men,increased alcohol and drug abuse and all their attendant problems. It has burdened women either with the guilt of an abortion or the hardships of single parenthood. Most of all, it has deprived children of a stable family consisting of a loving mother and loving father who are married each other and are ready to demonstrate unconditional love for their child. The child has a right to this love from the moment he or she is conceived in the womb. The child deserves care from both of his parents throughout their childhood and adolescence and love from both for the rest of his or her life. Most parents who make the sacrifices required of love experience that they are repaid in many ways that can never be counted.

[1]Office of Policy Planning and Research, U.S. Department of Labor, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” March 1965, at (August 2, 2006).

[2]Hillary Rodham Clinton, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 50.

[3]Paul Offner, “Welfare Reform and Teenage Girls,” Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 86 (June 2005), pp. 306–322.

[4] Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right,” The Atlantic, April 1993.

For more information see:

‘The Collapse of Marriage and the Rise of Welfare Dependence’by Jennifer A. Marshall, Robert Lerman, Ph.D., Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Ph.D., Hon. Wade Horn, Ph.D., Robert Rector Heritage Lecture #959 August 15, 2006 (Delivered May 22, 2006)

'Marriage Is for White People' by Joy Jones Washington Post, March 26, 2006

‘Dan Quayle Was Right' By Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Atlantic, April 1993


1 comment:

Seven Star Hand said...

Money is the lifeblood of the powerful and the chains and key to human enslavement

Hello Mr. West and all,

There is a radical and highly effective solution to all of our economic problems that will dramatically simplify, streamline, and revitalize human civilization. It will eliminate all poverty and the vast majority of crime, material inequality, deception, and injustice. It will also eliminate the underlying causes of most conflicts, while preventing evil scoundrels and their cabals from deceiving, deluding, and bedeviling humanity, ever again. It will likewise eliminate the primary barriers to solving global warming, pollution, and the many evils that result from corporate greed and control of natural and societal resources. That solution is to simply eliminate money from the human equation, thereby replacing the current system of greed, exploitation, and institutionalized coercion with freewill cooperation, just laws based on verifiable wisdom, and societal goals targeted at benefiting all, not just a self-chosen and abominably greedy few.

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Here's a real hot potato! Eat it up, digest it, and then feed it's bones to the hungry...

Most people have no idea that the common-denominator math of all the world's currencies forms an endless loop that generates debt faster than we can ever generate the value to pay for it. This obscured and purposeful math-logic trap at the center of all banking, currencies, and economies is the root cause of poverty. Those who rule this world through fear and deception strive constantly to hide this fact, while pretending to seek solutions to poverty and human struggle. Any who would scoff at this analysis have simply failed to do the math, even though it is based on a simple common-denominator ratio.

Read more here...