What’s one of the best ways to ensure a child is protected from poverty? Marriage. As such, it also helps protect families from ending up on welfare.
Of the families on welfare in 2011, roughly three-quarters of them were headed by a single parent. Only 7 percent of married families are poor; however, nearly a third of single-parent families live in poverty. Children in married homes are 82 percent less likely to be poor than children in single-parent homes. And marriage’s strong protection against poverty remains, even when comparing married and non-married families of the same race and education level.
Sadly, the number of children born to single mothers today is at a historic high. More than 40 percent of babies are born outside marriage every year. This is tragic considering the increased risk of poverty and many other challenges these children will likely face.
While many may assume unwed childbearing is due to a high teen birth rate, the reality is that most unwed births are not to high school–age young women, but to women between 18 and 30 years old. Rather than being a matter of teens getting into trouble, it’s a product of the breakdown of marriage, particularly in low-income communities, but increasingly in working-class America, too.
What’s the solution? There is no easy answer. Sadly, the issue of marriage breakdown is all too often simply overlooked when addressing poverty. The increase in unwed childbearing and the subsequent decline in marriage rates have rapidly increased, yet there has been almost no discussion surrounding the matter.
Some states and communities have taken a lead in restoring and strengthening marriage. Oklahoma and Utah have both invested in state marriage initiatives, providing marriage and relationship education to youth and couples that are at risk or already dependent on government services. Other states operate community marriage initiatives, such as First Things First in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Richmond, Virginia. First Things First provides marriage education, operates public advertising campaigns to inform people about the importance of marriage, and holds community events for couples and families.
National Marriage Week reminds us of the many Americans who dream of having healthy, happy, stable marriages and families, but who face many roadblocks on the way to achieving that dream. Much more effort by state and community initiatives such as First Things First is needed to promote and strengthen healthy marriage. Leaders at every level of society should address this matter.
A strong family that is centered on marriage is the greatest protector against child poverty. It also gives a child a stable foundation for achieving a successful life. It’s time to stop ignoring the problem of marital breakdown and to start taking steps to give every child the best possible chance at being raised in a home with their married mother and father.