NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 14, 2008

For most couples on welfare, getting married is among the more expensive decisions they will face as newlyweds, because saying "I do" will reduce the benefits they receive, on average, by 10 to 20 percent of their total income, says Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values.

In recent years, Congress has made substantial progress in reducing the marriage penalties paid by middle and upper income couples because of the tax system.  But lawmakers have done little to address marriage penalties facing the poor through the benefit system.

Why should we care about this issue, ask Brownback and Blankenhorn? For starters, consider the children:

  • A wide range of studies have found that children whose parents are married are significantly less likely to use drugs, have emotional problems, drop out of school or get into trouble with the law.
  • Studies also consistently find that married adults tend to be happier, healthier and ultimately, wealthier than their unmarried, but otherwise similarly situated peers.

It's time to eliminate the marriage penalty for low-income Americans, say Brownback and Blankenhorn.  Their proposal is simple: Don't make them pay it.  We should allow newly married couples to continue to receive all of their benefits for the first three years of marriage, thus mitigating the marriage penalty currently paid by lower-income couples.

Liberals ought to support this idea, because it means more money for the poor.  Conservatives ought to support this idea, because it is pro-marriage, and because it may help to reduce welfare dependency over the long run.  Everyone ought to like this idea because it could help reduce the suffering that so frequently accompanies family fragmentation and divorce, say Brownback and Blankenhorn.

Source: Sam Brownback and David Blankenhorn, "End the Welfare Marriage Penalty," Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2008.

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