Heritage Report: Marriage Best Weapon to Fight Child Poverty

Sep 05, 2012, 11:32 ET from The Heritage Foundation

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Nearly three out of four poor families with children in America are headed by single parents. When a child's father is married to his mother, however, the probability of the child's living in poverty drops by 82 percent.

The collapse of marriage, along with a dramatic rise in births to single women, is the most important cause of childhood poverty but government policy doesn't reflect that reality, according to a special report released today by The Heritage Foundation.

"Marriage: America's Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty," authored by Robert Rector, senior research fellow in domestic policy at the leading Washington think tank, is accompanied by a brief overview for each state with unique data and 14 charts per state. Heritage's report arrives a week before the Census Bureau's annual report on poverty.

"Policymakers on the state and national levels recognize that education reduces poverty, but they're largely unaware that marriage is an equally strong anti-poverty weapon," Rector says.

In Florida, for example, white families headed by single parents are five times more likely to be poor than those headed by married couples. In Illinois, the poverty rate for a single mother with only a high school diploma is 39.5 percent, compared with 8 percent for a married couple with the same education.

While more Americans grow dependent on welfare, government fails to communicate the benefits of marriage even while it warns young people not to smoke, do drugs, have "unsafe" sex or drop out of school.

Rector calls this tragic. Well over a third of all single-parent families with children (37 percent) were poor in 2009. Only 6.8 percent of married couples with children were poor. And marriage reduces the probability of poverty for all racial groups, as the charts show.

The rate of births to unmarried women -- now four out of every 10 babies overall, five out of 10 for Hispanics, seven out of 10 for blacks -- has soared since the mid-1960s, when President Johnson launched the War on Poverty.

Births outside marriage mostly are to less-educated women – sadly, those with the least ability to support children, the Heritage report notes. Nationwide, nearly two-thirds of births to women who are high school dropouts -- 65 percent -- are outside marriage. Among college graduates, it's 8 percent. 

Rector finds a silver lining: Most unmarried parents look favorably on marriage. "New policies should be developed that build on these attitudes," he says, specifically:

  • Provide facts to at-risk youth about the value of marriage.
  • Connect low-income couples with community resources that teach skills they need to build  lasting marriages before having children.
  • Reform the welfare system to encourage rather than discourage and penalize marriage.

View the entire research package at http:/www.heritage.org/childpoverty The Heritage Foundation develops and promotes public policy solutions that advance free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values and a strong national defense.

SOURCE The Heritage Foundation