Child poverty rates have decreased slightly, according to the latest Census data. Child poverty dropped from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent between 2012 and 2013.
While there’s been some buzz about this number, there’s a glaring statistic in the Census data that hasn’t received much attention: the major disparity in child poverty between married-parent and single-parent households. Child poverty is an astounding 45.8 percent for children in single-mother households. For children in married-parent households, it’s nearly five times lower, at 9.5 percent.
This fact should be cause for great concern considering that 40 percent of children are born to single mothers. But while discussions about child poverty include talk about the higher rates of poverty single parents face, there is little mention about the underlying cause of unwed births: the decline of marriage, particularly in lower-income communities.
The decline in marriage isn’t because these young men and women are against getting married. Research among young single mothers shows otherwise. Yet, the connection between marriage and childbearing has deteriorated in many lower-income communities. Marriage is seen as a capstone that occurs after one has arrived financially, with children occurring along the way. Unfortunately, this strategy creates serious roadblocks to a stable financial future.
Rather than attempting to address marital breakdown as a means of combating child poverty, the same tired approaches—more government welfare programs and increased spending—are tried again and again.
These approaches have failed for the past five decades. After $22 trillion and some 80 federally funded means-tested welfare programs, not only has welfare failed to improve self-sufficiency, as my colleague Robert Rector and I discuss in a new paper, it has also contributed to a weakening of marriage.
Marriage’s benefits for children go beyond just money. Children in households with their married mother and father are more likely to thrive even controlling for factors like income. They perform better academically and are less likely to go to jail or engage in early sexual activity, among other outcomes.
The Census data provide a glaring reminder of the importance of marriage for protecting children from poverty. If we really want the best for children, we must seek to restore a culture of marriage where children have the greatest opportunity to be raised by their mother and father in a healthy marriage.