November 20, 2014

War on Poverty, or War on Marriage?

The War on Poverty has “created a destructive feedback loop: Welfare promoted the decline of marriage, which generated a need for more welfare,” says Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector. “When the War on Poverty began, only a single welfare program – Aid to Families with Dependent Children – assisted single parents,” Rector writes. “Today, dozens of programs provide benefits to families with children, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Women, Infants and Children food program, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, child nutrition programs, public housing and Section 8 housing, and Medicaid. The burgeoning welfare state has promoted single parenthood in two ways. First, means-tested welfare programs such as those described above financially enable single parenthood. … Welfare … reduces the financial need for marriage. Since the beginning of the War on Poverty, less-educated mothers have increasingly become married to the welfare state and to the U.S. taxpayer rather than to the fathers of their children. … A second major problem is that the means-tested welfare system actively penalizes low-income parents who do marry. All means-tested welfare programs are designed so that a family’s benefits are reduced as earnings rise. In practice, this means that, if a low-income single mother marries an employed father, her welfare benefits will generally be substantially reduced. The mother can maximize welfare by remaining unmarried and keeping the father’s income ‘off the books.’ … The anti-marriage incentives built into the welfare state are indefensible. Policymakers should reduce welfare’s marriage penalties.” More…

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