Off the AP wire, via Drudge, it seems that unmarried births in the United States have hit a new record high for the last year (2004) at 1.5 million. And the disturbing trend is that it isn't just teenagers anymore. In an age where studies continuously show that marriage and family life provide the best opportunity to escape or stay out of poverty, more and more women are becoming single mothers which raises the question; if the government wants to fix poverty, why isn’t it encouraging marriage?
A study conducted in 2003 by the Brookings Institution contends that the poor work and marry less than the nonpoor. The study states, "[I]n 2001, 81 percent of nonpoor families with children were headed by married couples. This compares to only 40 percent among poor families with children." Furthermore, it shows that the heads of poor families with children work half as many hours as their nonpoor counterparts. These characteristics usually overlap, providing poor families with only one opportunity to maintain a living: welfare. However, instead of being a solution to the problem, welfare has only provided an easy way out, resulting in little or no change to the poverty rate since LBJ's "Great Society" initiative.
Nowadays, and especially since conservatives have gained power in the political system, we keep hearing the words "personal responsibility" enter into the equation. And for good reason; prosperity among American families nearly always stems from their being personally responsible for their success. In other words, they are successful as a result of their own actions, not the government's.
This news regarding unmarried births, and that the majority aren't the result of teenagers, is troubling for a few reasons. First off, it proves that we can't simply blame kids for making stupid mistakes anymore. Second, it proves that the marriage culture and its ties to successfulness doesn't have the allure it once used to. Today, poor families tend to consist of parental figures who aren't married, and only one of whom is employed. Furthermore, this employment is more often than not simply part-time. Sure there are instances where a single mother works two jobs and spends nearly half the day at work pulling in minimum wage to get by, but if that's the case, the family should have nothing to worry about.
Simply working full-time at minimum wage for fifty weeks out of the year, a single mother or father would bring in $10,300. Working an extra job at or above minimum wage would only require an extra 8 hours/week to push a family of two over the poverty line. Keep in mind that $12,830 for two people is a pretty generous standard. However, only half of those earning at or below the minimum wage level work full-time, or forty hours/week. Even worse, only 8.5% of minimum wage earners work more than forty hours/week according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics's "Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2004".
The simple truth of the matter is, married families almost always succeed because they almost always include two workers. While the mother must usually stay out of work during and following pregnancy, many get married with career plans already established, and most often already realized. With maternity leave a stipulation in many contracts these days, it isn't a difficult decision for a woman to enter a career with the expectation of having a child, because more often than not, she will be covered by her employer for missed time. In the meantime, the husband is 99% of the time going to be working non-stop throughout the process.
No matter how you look at the situation, the easiest and most efficient way to get rid of poverty is to encourage marriage. The government should not be wasting tax dollars on programs to subsidize the poor, because as the saying goes: if you subsidize something, you get more of it. Instead, the government should be working to repeal taxes and penalties on marriage, and the best step to achieving this is the implementation of the FairTax. Under the FairTax, there would no longer be any taxes or penalties on marriage or having a family, and more importantly, it would include a monthly prebate to reimburse families for the purchase of life's basic necessities. This will allow the family to divert more resources to caring for children and it will encourage poor families to work more, since they would be receiving 100% of their paycheck.
It all comes down to this: marriage is good for all classes, upper AND lower. Only when this is understood can we start down the road to ending poverty. Until then, we will simply be stumbling sideways.