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June 17, 2010

Married Fathers: Weapon No. 1 Against Child Poverty

Washington , D.C. , April 17, 2010 -- A wedding ring, it turns out, is the ultimate anti-poverty weapon. That conclusion from The Heritage Foundation is both encouragement and warning this Father’s Day.

“The principal cause of child poverty in the U.S. is the absence of married fathers in the home,” Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the leading Washington think tank, says in a new paper illustrating the social costs of record-high births outside marriage – and of homes without fathers.

Rector, a leading authority on poverty and welfare whose work inspired the welfare reforms of the mid-1990s, has rendered this common-sense diagnosis before. Now, “Marriage and Poverty in the U.S.: By the Numbers,” 12 new charts accompanying his paper, shows he remains on the mark despite ongoing official neglect of root causes.

The escalating rate of births to unmarried women – more than four out of every 10 babies, and a staggering seven out of 10 for blacks – has grown well beyond a crying shame.

The growing number of out-of-wedlock births draws little media attention. To the extent it does, the focus tends to stray to a less devastating, though important, social issue: teen pregnancy. In 2008, babies born to girls under 18 accounted for 130,000 or 7.5 percent of the total 1.72 million out-of-wedlock births.

“Marriage matters. But mentioning the bond between marriage and lower poverty violates the protocols of political correctness. Thus, the main cause of child poverty remains hidden from public view,” Rector writes. “Since the decline of marriage is the principal cause of child poverty and welfare dependence in the U.S. …it would seem reasonable for government to take steps to strengthen marriage.”

Research shows that a child raised in a home where Dad is married to Mom is much less likely to:

  • Live in poverty.
  • Get arrested as a juvenile.
  • Be suspended or expelled from school.
  • Be treated for emotional or behavioral problems.
  • Drop out before completing high school.

Taxpayers get the bill for more than $300 billion a year in means-tested government spending on low-income single moms – and, in relatively rare cases, single dads.

About two of every three poor children live in single-parent households, most headed by a mother. Yet if poor single moms married the fathers of their children, nearly two out of three would be lifted out of poverty.

“Our national tragedy is our loss of loyal fathers,” says Chuck Donovan, senior research fellow in Heritage’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.

“In communities where single parenthood is relatively infrequent – and such neighborhoods are vanishing – older married men or younger men who are ‘marriage material’ can fill much of the mentoring gap,” Donovan writes. “But where will such men come from in cities where large numbers of males refuse to mentor or monitor their own children?”

Heritage analysts view the overall unwed birth rate as a widening crack that hastens the collapse of marriage.

Contrary to popular misconception, it’s not as simple as young men “manning up” and becoming the lawfully wedded husbands of their girlfriends, live-in or otherwise. Research shows these women tend to be in their 20s and without much income or education. They come to depend on public assistance and learn how to work the welfare system.

But rather than adopt policies to reverse the 50-year spike in the unwed birth rate, President Obama’s 2011 budget “would eliminate the one program dedicated to encouraging healthy marriage,” notes Jennifer A. Marshall, Heritage’s director of domestic policy studies.

“In its place would be a program promoting a notion of ‘fatherhood’ that doesn't involve the father being married or in the home,” Marshall writes. “The facts speak for themselves. It's time more policymakers noticed what the facts are saying.”

The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with more than 660,000 individual, foundation and corporate donors. Founded in February 1973, it has a staff of 255 and an annual expense budget of $75.3 million.

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