Experts Refute Right-Wing Claim That Marriage Magically Solves Poverty

Right-wing media denied the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies in response to President Obama's recent push to reduce income inequality, instead hyping marriage as a preferable economic solution. But experts have rejected that notion, citing a systemic lack of economic opportunity as a more critical issue.

Media Scapegoat Single Parents To Explain Growing Economic Inequality

Wash. Post's Kathleen Parker: Marriage “Creates A Tiny Economy Fueled By A Magical Concoction Of Love.” In a January 15 op-ed for The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker argued that “being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty” and argued that an increase in marriages “would help in the War on Poverty”:

If I may. This is not a new idea but recently has fallen into disrepair if not disrepute, though it would help in the War on Poverty: Marriage.


More to the point, we know that being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty. And no, splitting expenses between unmarried people isn't the same. This is because marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by a magical concoction of love, selflessness and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.

In the absence of marriage, single parents (usually mothers) are left holding the baby and all the commensurate challenges and financial burdens. As a practical matter, how is a woman supposed to care for little ones and/or pay for child care, while working for a minimum wage that is significantly less than what most fair-minded, lucky people would consider paying the house cleaner? Not very well.


Obviously, marriage won't cure all ills. A single mother could marry tomorrow and she still wouldn't have a job. But in the War on Poverty, rebuilding a culture that encourages marriage should be part of the arsenal. The luck of the draw isn't nearly enough -- and sometimes old ideas are the best new ideas. [The Washington Post, 1/15/14]

Fox's Van Susteren: “Is Getting Hitched The Key To Getting Rich?” On the January 13 edition of Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren asked, “Is getting hitched the key to getting rich?” She claimed that “a new strategy could take the wind out of President Obama's recent war on income inequality,” and welcomed former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer onto the show to discuss his January 12 Wall Street Journal op-ed, which criticized President Obama's anti-poverty programs while advocating that policies addressing income inequality should focus more on “marriage equality” than economic restructuring:

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, tell me why getting married is the best way out of this income [in]equality issue.

FLEISCHER: Well, when you look at what has happened to America since the war on poverty began in 1964, 93 percent of us were born into homes that had two parents, two married parents, now the numbers are abysmal, almost half of all children born in America today are born into homes out of wedlock. Single moms raising children. It's one quarter of all whites, 50 percent of all Hispanics and three quarters of every black baby born in America today has a dad who is not there, parents who are not married. And you wonder why it's so hard to raise children and make ends meet. From the moment these children are born they don't have a chance. It is much harder for them than it is for a family that's born with two parents. That's what is such a big driver, Greta, behind income inequality and poverty. Children who are being raised in single parent homes where the dad was never there, and never there from the start. It's common sense.

VAN SUSTEREN: In your op-ed piece today in The Wall Street Journal, I mean, the numbers are stunning. With African American families, if they're married families with children seven percent are below the poverty rate, if unmarried its 35.6. Similarly, white is 3.2, unmarried is 22 percent. Dramatically different if you're unmarried families. But I'm curious in terms of this there is that - there's been no push from our leaders, virtually no emphasis on families trying to hold to sort of hold together or try to have, you know, have a marriage first, whatever your marriage is, and then have a family - at that point - I mean, we see so much where single parents are - it's glorified as though it's something easy to do and it's not.

FLEISCHER: The debate in Washington is stuck on old formulas that have not worked and will not work. Redistribution of income, increasing the redistribution, is not going to solve these intractable problems. The focus has to shift. It has to shift to how do you change society? How do you change people's behavior - which is a destructive, harmful behavior? How do you make people stop having children and first get married and then have children? And there - you know what? There are wonderful groups. There are nonprofit groups all around this country -- Robert Woodson Senior, runs a group called the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. It's one of the best groups in the country that's doing these kinds of things from the inside out, from neighborhoods out. That's where the solution is. It's much more values and a decision based matter than it is a can government spend money matter.


This needs to be a real moral crusade, that's how you turn around society. That's how you change values. And this is a value-laden fight. It is much more values than it is economics, interestingly. Because as I said, you can raise taxes all you want and try to give that money to somebody else - so long as they're still born in the home with the dad never there and the mom struggling to make ends meet, you can't redistribute enough money to pull them out of poverty and to get them through what they're going through. It's a very different America than we were before. Some things need to move back.

VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed, anyway, two parents better than one even looking at it from an economic standpoint. [Fox News, On The Record1/13/14]

Fox's Jonah Goldberg: Non-Economic Factors Like “Family Structure” Are More Effective Than Economic Policy In Preventing Income Inequality. In a January 6 USA Today column, Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg claimed that non-economic issues like family structure can do more to combat poverty and income inequality than economic policy. Goldberg cited the story of Dasani Coates, a 12-year-old girl who was recently profiled in a New York Times article on child homelessness, blaming her poverty on the absence of her father and attacking the Times for citing  an economic “system that tolerates so much economic inequality”:

One has to wonder whether James missed the irony. According to liberals like James and The Times (to the extent that's a distinction with a difference), Dasani is a victim of a system that tolerates so much economic inequality.

Dasani is certainly a victim, but is the system really to blame? Dasani's biological father is utterly absent. Her mother, Chanel, a drug addict and daughter of a drug addict, has a long criminal record and has children from three men. It doesn't appear that she has ever had a job, and often ignores her parental chores because she's strung out on methadone. As Kay Hymowitz notes in a brilliant (New York) City Journal examination of Dasani's story, The Times can't distinguish between the plight of hard-working New Yorkers like James' late parents and people like Dasani's parents. “The reason for this confusion is clear: In the progressive mind, there is only one kind of poverty. It is always an impersonal force wrought by capitalism, with no way out that doesn't involve massive government help.”

The data say something else. Family structure and the values that go into successful child rearing have a stronger correlation with economic mobility than income inequality. America's system is hardly flawless. But if Dasani were born to the same parents in a socialist country, she'd still be a victim -- of bad parents. [USA Today, 1/6/14]

Experts Reject Idea That Single-Parent Homes Cause Poverty

The Shriver Report: Marriage Not A “Silver Bullet For Women's Economic Troubles.” In partnership with the Center for American Progress, NBC's Maria Shriver released a report on January 12 on the economic realities women face in America. In the report, contributing author and director of the Children and Families Program at Next Generation, Ann O'Leary, argues that simply promoting marriage and family values will not solve poverty. Instead, O'Leary finds that economic policies and programs that improve access to education and child care can do more to help decrease economic hardship for women:

Rather than promoting marriage as a silver bullet for women's economic troubles, the government should instead promote policies that allow women to complete their educations, to find stable and well-paying jobs, and to have the work supports necessary to meet their family needs, including child care and family- friendly workplace policies.


Single parents need education and good jobs to help their children thrive. Both sides should acknowledge that marriage, as an institution for raising children, is not always possible. Accepting that even a reversal in the trend of unmarried births will not end the need to support single-parent families, the government should provide greater educational opportunities and work supports to help single parents gain access to better jobs with more stable incomes and supports such as child care, paid family leave, and equal pay, as outlined in great detail in the Public Solutions chapter. Single mothers in our survey were more likely to regret leaving school (70 percent) than regret the timing or number of their children (47 percent).

By working to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies to unmarried parents, policymakers must also acknowledge the lack of economic and educational opportunities afforded to low-income young adults. While we should encourage young women to get an education before having a baby and encourage both parents to be economically secure before entering into parenthood, this suggestion must come with real policies to support these efforts, as outlined in the Education chapter. [The Shriver Report, 1/12/14, emphasis original]

Council On Contemporary Families: “Promoting Marriage” Is An “Ineffective Weapon In the War On Poverty.” Kristie Williams, Ph.D., an expert with the Council on Contemporary Families, released a January 6 report showing that a “growing body of evidence” demonstrates that “promoting marriage is not the answer to the problems facing single mothers and their children.” According to Williams, a major flaw in the argument that marriage can lead to more income equality is the “assumption that all marriages are equally beneficial”:

How can we improve the lives of the growing numbers of unmarried mothers and their children? So far, a dominant approach has been to encourage their mothers to marry.  At first glance, the logic makes sense. If growing up in a two-parent home is best for children, then adding a second parent to a single-mother home should at least partially address the problem. The 1996 welfare reform legislation and its subsequent reauthorization institutionalized this focus on marriage by allowing states to spend welfare funds on a range of marriage promotion efforts.

The flaw in this argument is the assumption that all marriages are equally beneficial. In fact, however, the pool of potential marriage partners for single mothers in impoverished communities does not include many men with good prospects for becoming stable and helpful partners. Single mothers are especially likely to marry men who have children from other partnerships, who have few economic resources, who lack a high-school diploma, or who have been incarcerated or have substance abuse problems. The new unions that single mothers form tend to have low levels of relationship quality and high rates of instability. A nationally representative study of more than 7,000 women found that approximately 64 percent of the single mothers who married were divorced by the time they reached age 35-44. More importantly, single mothers who marry and later divorce are worse off economically than single mothers who never marry. Even marriages that endure appear to offer few health benefits to single mothers unless they are to the biological father of their first child.


Our recent research adds to the growing body of evidence that promoting marriage is not the answer to the problems facing single mothers and their children. Analyzing more than 30 years of data on a nationally representative cohort of women and their children, we found no physical or psychological advantages for the majority of adolescents born to a single mother whose mothers later married. We did find a modest physical health advantage among the minority of youth whose single mother later married and stayed married to their biological father, compared to those whose mothers remained unmarried. However, such unions are exceedingly rare. Only 16 percent of low income unwed mothers in the Fragile Families and Child Well Being study were married to the child's biological father five years after the child's birth. Marriage may matter, but only a little, and only in very specific and relatively rare circumstances. [Council On Contemporary Families, 1/6/14, emphasis original]

Paul Krugman: Income Inequality Is Caused By A Lack Of Economic Opportunity, Not A “Collapse Of The Family.” On January 8, economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argued in a New York Times op-ed that income inequality today is caused by a lack of economic opportunity, rather than social disintegration or the “collapse of the family”:

These days crime is way down, so is teenage pregnancy, and so on; society did not collapse. What collapsed instead is economic opportunity. If progress against poverty has been disappointing over the past half century, the reason is not the decline of the family but the rise of extreme inequality. We're a much richer nation than we were in 1964, but little if any of that increased wealth has trickled down to workers in the bottom half of the income distribution. [The New York Times, 1/8/14]