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September 16, 2010

September 16, 2010 | News Releases on

Collapse of Marriage Spurs Explosion in Poverty

Washington , D.C., Sept. 16, 2010—The Heritage Foundation released the following observations by Robert Rector, senior research fellow and leading authority on reforming the federal welfare system, regarding the poverty data out today from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Heritage also released a new paper by Rector on the topic along with “Marriage and Poverty in the U.S.,” an online slide show in which he charts how marriage reduces poverty in every state -- and proposes seven steps to make the most of marriage as “America’s No. 1 Weapon Against Childhood Poverty.”

Rector’s statement:

New data from the Census Bureau show the largest increase in poverty in recorded U.S. history. Under President Obama’s watch, an additional 3.7 million Americans fell into poverty in 2009.

Buried in the census report are startling figures revealing the principal cause of child poverty: the collapse of marriage. Families headed by single mothers are almost five times more likely to be poor than are married couples with children; overall, nearly 70 percent of poor families with children are headed by single parents.

The big secret in the Census Bureau’s report is that marriage is America’s number-one weapon against child poverty. But marriage has rapidly declined in our society as the number of women who have children without being married skyrocketed.

Historically, unwed childbearing was rare. In 1964, when the federal government launched its War on Poverty, 6.8 percent of births were to single mothers. Today, the unwed birth rate has soared to 40 percent: four of every 10 births are to a single mother. For Hispanics and African Americans, it’s significantly higher.

This trend is extremely detrimental for society. When compared to children raised by married parents, children raised by single parents are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems; be physically abused; smoke, drink, and use drugs; be aggressive; engage in violent delinquent and criminal behavior; have poor school performance; and drop out of school.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, nearly all unwed fathers are employed, and most earn enough to lift mother and child from poverty. Tragically, however, few unwed parents marry.

Many commentators will say teen pregnancy accounts for most single motherhood, but this is false. Less than 8 percent of new single moms are under 18. In fact, most unwed births are to end up on welfare. young adult women in their 20s. The majority of unwed moms don’t have much education; most end up on welfare.

If Americans are serious about reducing poverty and getting control of federal welfare spending, we must strengthen marriage. We can do this in several ways, beginning with reducing anti-marriage penalties currently in welfare programs and providing factual information to low-income communities about the benefits of marriage.

Visit The Foundry, Heritage’s policy blog, for additional analysis by Rector and by Robert Moffit, senior fellow in domestic and economic policy studies and a national expert on health care reform. For links to related research and commentary by Rector, go here; for Moffit, go here.

The Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973, is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute. It works to develop effective policy solutions based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values and a strong national defense.

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