Poverty / Slide Show

Poverty is caused by marriage-absence

Government, politicians, and the media writhe about the record numbers of households living in poverty, homes foreclosed, needing food stamps, with no health care.  For decades we have been told that economic downturns and joblessness are the primary cause.   The facts prove otherwise.

The leading hierarchical driver of poverty in America is marriage-absence.  Economic downturns and joblessness play a secondary role.  The following table, compiled by the Center for Marriage Policy from government data proves this is the case.

We see that poverty for married families has consistently ranged between about 5 and 7% since 1975 across five economic downturns. But poverty has averaged approximately 500% to 600% higher for unmarried female-headed households – closely following the unemployment rate.

Bicycles have two wheels for good reason, and fish do not ride them.  Married families consistently have income redundancy required to weather market cycles and the necessary built-in human resources to withstand illness, child-rearing, and retirement gracefully; while paying taxes.  We can no longer afford our failed cultural experiment propping up unicycles on the highway of life.

Marriage guarantees the lowest poverty rates regardless of economic conditions.  Marriage is the best pathway to upward mobility and economic success, most notably for individuals in lower income groups. 

The graph reveals other astonishing truths:

  1. Significant reductions in poverty levels occurred during the economic boom prior to implementation of the first “Great Society” programs, when marriage rates were high. Programs implemented since 1964 have demonstrated no impact reducing poverty, but enabled growth of destructive cultural thinking deprecating marriage.
  2. The “number of individuals in poverty” statistic widely recited in horror is misleading because it reflects population growth in addition to poverty. The “percent in poverty” is credible.
  3. We are nowhere near the poverty level of 23% in 1959. Government programs have demonstrated little or no impact on this metric since 1970.
  4. The number of individuals lacking health care coverage has hovered around 15% since 1986.  Lack of coverage is not the pandemic misused to ram National Health Care through Congress.
  5. Poverty rates for unmarried women (most often with children) are approximately six times higher than for married women.  Recessions impact unmarried mothers more steeply than the general population, most likely due to the fact that these households have only one income stream.

Two related exponential trends are revealed that track in parallel.  Illegitimacy increased 1000% since 1959, and nearly doubled since 1986. Secondly, the percentage of households receiving some form of government assistance has increased 142% since 1986.

Welfare reforms enacted in 1996 are not a success.  Policy to reverse the trend of marriage-absence did not exist in 1996 and was not considered, but was called for in the PROWRA template.

We have spent 16-trillion on welfare since 1964, and another $953 billion this year.  Budgets must be cut, but only a scrooge would do it by throwing unmarried mothers on the street.  To get our economic house in order, our first priority must be to restore marriage as the structural social norm.

Teachers, lawyers, insurers, doctors, judges, hospitals, real estate companies, banks, Fannie, Freddie, and taxpayers have a profound stake helping restoring marriage.  Their greatest industry problems are substantially caused by marriage-absence.

Eighty-six percent of women, and two-thirds of men still believe in marriage.  Marriage is the most pressing contemporary women’s and children’s issue.  The majority of problems liberals, conservatives, Libertarians, and Constitutionalists abhor can be greatly resolved by restoring marriage.

The Center for Marriage Policy, founded this month, has created the “10 Marriage Values Policies” designed to complete welfare reform, improve the lives of millions of unmarried adults and children, balance budgets without raising taxes, reduce poverty, and restore our core social fabric.

American cannot afford to waste another election cycle multiplying past mistakes.  The time to restore marriage is now.


David R. Usher is President of the Center for Marriage Policy.

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