NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare Programs Penalize Marriage and Reward Single-Parenthood

September 6, 2001

The modern welfare state has largely grown up as a support system for single parenthood, says Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Aid to single-parent families costs federal and state governments $150 billion per year. And nearly one-third of all American children are born outside marriage.

But little or no effort is being devoted to reducing the underlying problem, which Rector says is the decline of marriage. Children in single-parent homes, particularly those with never-married parents, are at high risk for poverty:

  • Eighty percent of child poverty in the United States occurs among children from broken or never-formed families.
  • A child raised by a never-married mother is seven times more likely to live in poverty than a child raised by his biological parents in an intact marriage.

The 1996 welfare reform attempted to establish formal national goals of reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing and strengthening marriage, but states have largely ignored those goals. Rector suggests that new welfare reform should allocate 10 percent of federal TANF funds to promote and strengthen marriages, including marriage and divorce education, public service ad campaigns, mentoring programs, pro-marriage counseling during pregnancy, and community-wide marriage policies and programs.

Furthermore, reforms must reduce the anti-marriage incentives embodied in the welfare system. Societies have historically fostered marriage as the main mechanism for raising children, because non-marital child rearing inevitably imposes high costs on children, their kin and their communities. The United States, ironically, no longer supports marriage, but instead, massively taxes marital child rearing in order to subsidize non-marital alternatives. As long as single parenthood continues to grow, concludes Rector, welfare spending will grow with it.

Source: Robert Rector (Heritage Foundation), "Using Welfare Reform to Strengthen Marriage," American Experiment Quarterly, Summer 2001, Center of the American Experiment, 1024 Plymouth Building, 12 South 6th Street, Minneapolis, Minn., 55402, (612)338-3605.


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