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27.3% of Single Parent Households Live in Poverty

Are America’s marriage “penalties,” a cause of our growing problem with poverty?

According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of married couple families living in poverty was 6.2%. For single-parent households in that same year, the poverty rate was 27.3%; for single mother households, the poverty rate was 29.9%.

Research also shows that children born or raised in single-parent families are at higher risk for a variety of social ills, including welfare dependency, academic difficulties and criminal activity.

Obviously, marriage is not a magic wand that will lead all families to happiness and prosperity. Many marriages end in divorce, and some married couples raise their children in unstable and unhealthy ways.

I am sure everyone knows of single moms who work hard and do a great job raising children. We need to applaud every heroic parent working hard to raise good kids regardless of whether or not they are married.”

As important, our nation needs to move past the bias against those who find themselves faced with raising children in a single parent situation. Decades of research continues to support the fact that among those in poverty virtually no single parent intended to be a single parent.

The issues involving combating American poverty are complex and there is no one simple answer.  Yet poverty is a growing problem.

Today over 47 million Americans receive food stamps. The Affordable Care Act intends to give health care coverage to 35 million citizens, of which 20 million - with limited income - will be either potentially Medicaid eligible or receive subsidies to participate in exchanges nationwide. In total the nation will spend $250 billion for means-tested welfare benefits for single parents!

In the “Audacity of Hope,” President Obama writes:

“[M]ost people agree that neither federal welfare programs nor the tax code should penalize married couples.”

On this point the president has closure with Congress. Further polling supports reform of the welfare system enabling millions to earn their way out of poverty no longer burdened by counterproductive marriage penalties.

Specifically, welfare programs create disincentives to marry because benefits are reduced as a family’s income rises. A mother will receive far more from welfare if she is single than if she has an employed husband in the home. For many low-income couples, marriage means a reduction in government assistance and an overall decline in the couple’s joint income. Marriage penalties occur in many means-tested programs such as food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, day care, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

When our society lacks the courage to address the link between poverty and single-parent households, it is our children who are the real losers.

  • Children in non-intact families face a higher risk of poverty throughout childhood. By age six, 68 percent of children in non-married households had experienced at least one year of poverty, compared to 12 percent of children in married households. By age 12, 78 percent of children in non-married households had experienced at least one year of poverty compared to 18 percent of children in married households; and by age 17, 81 percent of children in non-married households had experienced at least one year of poverty compared to 22 percent of children in married households.
  • Among children whose parents divorce, those with mothers who remarry are least likely to be poor. There was a 66 percent reduction in poverty among children whose divorced single mothers remarried and a 40 percent reduction in poverty among children whose mothers cohabited following a divorce. The poverty rate of children whose divorced mothers remarried was 9.4 percent, while the poverty rate of children whose divorced mothers cohabited was 28.8 percent. The poverty rate of children whose divorced mothers remained single was 42.4 percent.3
  • Marriage reduces the risk of poverty for both employed and unemployed single mothers. The likelihood of single, unemployed mothers being in poverty dropped from 100 percent to 35 percent if they marry the father of their children: Marriage more than doubled the family income of these mothers and their children. Mark R. Rank and Thomas A. Hirschl, “The Economic Risk of Childhood in America: Estimating the Probability of Poverty Across the Formative Years,” Journal of Marriage and Family 61, No. 4 (November 1999): 1058-1067.

While there are substantial benefits our society can realize by ending our “marriage penalties” which would address multiple areas of concern relating to child rearing, it should not be forgotten, a growing number of our Senior citizen are additionally effected by “marriage penalties.” Our growing number of seniors living out their retirement years in poverty could be reduced through federal and state reform of benefit allocations which penalize marriage.

Unfortunately, there is no Super PAC promoting ending the “marriage penalties” which effect single parent families to our seniors in poverty.

Neither does there appear to be any inclination by either candidate for president to champion reform that could literally with the enactment of legislation costing taxpayers no additional expense lift millions from the roles of those defined as living in poverty.

America as a nation has much to gain be considering ending her “marriage penalties” relating to tax treatment from marriage and eligibility requirement to receive assistance by married couples.

Now we must ask ourselves, “Can we raise this issue to national prominence becoming the voice for those without the financial means to champion their cause of escaping from poverty in America by reforming our federal and state marriage penalties?”

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