The High Cost of Broken Families

COMMENTARY Marriage and Family

The High Cost of Broken Families

May 21, 2008 2 min read

Spokesperson, The LIBRE Initiative

Israel Ortega is a former contributor for The Foundry.

Between 1970 and 2005, the number of children living in two-parent homes has dropped from 85 percent to 68 percent. Essentially, one third of all U.S. children are now born outside of wedlock. Of significance, 46 percent of all babies born out of wedlock are Hispanic. Why should our community care? Or even yet, why should our government care?

Well according to a recent report by the Institute for American Values and the Georgia Family Council, broken families impose a high cost on every single American taxpayer.

Lately, poverty and hunger have been generating increased media attention thanks to the primary election. Unfortunately, rather than talking about real ways to lift people out of poverty, politicians have mostly talked about increasing government programs that would make people even more dependent on federal handouts. While such promises may make for good political sound bites on the stump, they grossly disservice the very people they aim to help.

Empirical evidence continues to show that divorce and unwed childbearing leads to higher rates of crime, drug abuse, education failure, domestic violence and poverty. In fact, the authors of "The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing" suggest that marriage alone would lift 60 percent of households headed by a single female out of poverty.

Using 2006 figures, married families are less likely to depend on food stamps than single-family households. And according to a paper published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, increases in the proportion of adolescents born outside of marriage was linked to an increase in arrest rates for 15- to 19-year-olds.

Even if one doesn't think there's a moral imperative to stop the growing number of children born out of wedlock and the rise of divorce rates, the price tag from this sad trend is startling. American tax payers pay approximately $112 billion every year to support broken families. This number includes programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.

For far too long, lawmakers have avoided addressing these troubling statistics. They keep throwing money around, apparently hoping that through increased federal assistance, poverty and hunger will magically disappear.

But it's been more than 45 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson launched his "War against Poverty," and the numbers reveal that this federal approach does not work.

A far sounder approach has been to encourage the promotion of the family structure as a means to truly lift people out of poverty. Instead of encouraging teens to engage in premarital sex, conservatives have been arguing for a return to family values to decrease the number of teens with sexually transmitted diseases in our society.

Unfortunately too many politicians consider promoting traditional family values too controversial, or taboo.

Sadly, as the data suggest unless our elected officials muster up the courage to talk about the need to reduce unwed pregnancies, we'll have no choice but to pay for the high cost of broken families in our country--both in money and human pain.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in Hola Kentucky