Study: Rise in Poverty Linked to Collapse of Marriage

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Researchers at The Heritage Foundation have found that the collapse of marriage is one of the principal causes of the sharp increase in the poverty rate that has occurred since President Barack Obama took office.

According to a press release by The Heritage Foundation, the report entitled Marriage and Poverty in the U.S., details the alarming statistics.

“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,” writes Robert Rector, senior research fellow.

“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.”

Rector explains that unwed childbearing was relatively rare in 1964 when the government launched its War on Poverty. At that time, only 6.8 percent of births were to single mothers. Today, that number has jumped to 40 percent, which means that four out of every 10 births are to single mothers. For Hispanics and African Americans, the number is significantly higher.

“This trend is extremely detrimental for society,” Rector writes. “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, he says, nearly all unwed fathers are employed, and most earn enough to lift mother and child from poverty. Tragically, however, few unwed parents marry.

“If Americans are serious about reducing poverty and getting control of federal welfare spending, we must strengthen marriage,” Rector concludes. “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.”

 Click here to view an on-line slide presentation of this report.

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