Fathers Who Are Husbands Spare Children from Poverty
by Ken McIntyre, Heritage Foundation, June 18, 2010
A wedding ring on Dad's finger is more than a symbol of his commitment to Mom. It also proves to be the ultimate anti-poverty weapon for their children. Now that's something to celebrate and encourage this Father's Day. It's fitting on Sunday to honor all the fathers who strive to keep that commitment, even when they grow weary.
"The principal cause of child poverty in the U.S. is the absence of married fathers in the home," Robert Rector, senior research fellow in domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, writes in a new paper. "Marriage is a powerful weapon in fighting poverty. Being married has the same effect in reducing poverty as adding five to six years to a parent’s education level."
In the paper, accompanied by 12 new charts on marriage and poverty, Rector illustrates the severe social costs of record-high births outside marriage – and of homes without fathers.
The escalating rate of births to unmarried women – four of every 10 babies overall, but more than half the Hispanic births and a staggering seven of every 10 births for blacks – is driving the collapse of marriage in America, especially in lower-income neighborhoods.
As Rector writes:
Marriage matters. But mentioning the bond between marriage and lower poverty violates the protocols of political correctness. Thus, the main cause of child poverty remains hidden from public view. Since the decline of marriage is the principal cause of child poverty and welfare dependence in the U.S. …it would seem reasonable for government to take steps to strengthen marriage.
About two of every three poor children live in single-parent households. Yet if poor single moms married the fathers of their children, nearly two out of three would be lifted out of poverty.
And contrary to the mainstream media line, teen pregnancy is a small part of the picture: In 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, babies born to girls under 18 accounted for 130,000, or 7.5 percent, of the total 1.72 million out-of-wedlock births.
It's not as simple as young men "manning up" and becoming the lawfully wedded husbands of their girlfriends, live-in or otherwise. These unmarried mothers tend to be in their 20s, without much income or education. They come to depend on public assistance; many learn how to work the welfare system.
Research shows that a child raised in a home where Dad is married to Mom is much less likely to live in poverty, get arrested as a juvenile, be suspended or expelled from school, be treated for emotional or behavioral problems, or drop out before completing high school. Taxpayers foot the bill for more than $300 billion a year in means-tested government spending on low-income single moms – and, in relatively rare cases, single dads.
One budding national leader, himself a young husband and father, nailed the poverty portion of the tragedy of absent fathers when he cited similar statistics five years ago and wrote:
In light of these facts, policies that strengthen marriage for those who choose it and that discourage unintended births outside of marriage are sensible goals to pursue.
Those words come from husband, father and then-Senator Barack Obama's 2006 best-seller "The Audacity of Hope." He was correct then, and he should implement marriage-strengthening policies today.
To reinvigorate marriage in lower-income neighborhoods, Rector suggests, government could start by providing facts on the role of healthy marriages in reducing poverty and improving the well-being of children. Why not teach skills for selecting a wife or husband? Why not explain the importance of developing a stable marital relationship before bringing children into the world?
Nothing could be further from government practice. In social service agencies, welfare offices, schools and popular culture across America, what Rector calls "a deafening silence" reigns on the topic of marriage. The welfare system actively penalizes low-income couples who do get married. He adds:
For most on the Left, marriage is, at best, an antiquated institution, a red-state superstition. From this viewpoint, the real task is to expand government subsidies as a post-marriage society is built.
Rather than adopt policies to reverse the 50-year spike in births outside marriage, though, President Obama in his 2011 budget "would eliminate the one program dedicated to encouraging healthy marriage," notes Jennifer A. Marshall, Heritage’s director of domestic policy studies.
In its place would be a program promoting a notion of 'fatherhood' that doesn't involve the father being married or in the home. The facts speak for themselves. It's time more policymakers noticed what the facts are saying.
Something to think about, Mr. President. Happy Father's Day.
2015: Hawaii Lowest Median Income for Families with Father Present