Women in Poverty - Tales from the Recession's Front Lines

Part: 4

Marriage Loses Ground as Anti-Poverty Panacea

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Bush administration pushed marriage as a panacea for fighting poverty but a recent government study confirms the view of skeptics who say money problems must be solved first, since they destroy and destabilize relationships.



WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--A recent government agency report finding that marriage promotion programs have not helped women escape poverty--a central tenet of welfare policy under President George W. Bush--gives Stephanie Coontz the chance to say "I told you so."

Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Wash., says unemployment and low wages erode family stability and jobless women are less likely to marry than their employed counterparts.

Marriage as a miracle solution for the poor "ignores the many ways in which poverty diminishes people's ability to build and sustain stable family relationships," Coontz wrote in a 2002 paper about marriage and poverty, published by The American Prospect magazine.

Coontz, author of the 2005 book "Marriage, a History" and other books about marriage, has long argued that the stresses of unemployment and low wages erode family stability.

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In her 2002 paper she also pointed to research showing that low-income men's wages--when adjusted for inflation--have decreased over the past few decades, contributing to a decline in marriage rates.

Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University who has studied marriage patterns among unwed and married mothers, also finds his conclusions echoed by the government report, issued in May.

While two-parent families typically enjoy higher household incomes, married women are also better educated and have more resources.

"Poverty is a cause rather than a consequence of marital status," Lichter concludes.

When comparing marriage rates before and after welfare reform--during the period of marriage promotion programs--Lichter said he found they had no appreciable effect.

The government evaluation conducted by a policy research group for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families found that the government-sponsored Building Strong Families project, which targets new, unwed parents, failed overall to strengthen couples' relationships, increase marriage rates or ultimately change economic status.

Marriage Idea Gained Momentum

The idea that marriage could alleviate poverty among single mothers gained momentum following a major redesign of welfare in 1996 that imposed new work requirements and time limits on the duration of a woman's government child support.

The major outcome of that was a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, a block grant to states that mainly aided single, female heads of households. The new law stipulated that some TANF funds could be used to "encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families."

In 2002 President Bush elevated the importance of marriage as a tool to reduce poverty when he launched the Healthy Marriage Initiative, which Congress supported with $150 million in annual grants for marriage and fatherhood programs from 2006 to 2010.

The project failed "to yield better outcomes for participants," the Administration for Children and Families said in a press statement accompanying the report. In the wake of the findings, it said it endorses the "more comprehensive approach" of a $500 million Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund from President Obama's 2011 budget.

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Great to see coverage of this important story. The Alternatives to Marriage Project has been saying "I told you so" for over a decade, since the publication of the first edition of Let Them Eat Wedding Rings. Learn more, sign the constituent petition, or join our coalition of experts opposed to marriage promotion at http://www.unmarried.org/welfare.html. Follow our ongoing analysis at http://unmarried.org/blog/category/marriage-promotion/

The new project, where fatherhood and not motherhood begins the title, and motherhood is not mentioned, is itself sexist against women. In many marriages with children, women become trapped in personal poverty. Whether the man who is the 'bread-winner' is loving or violent, if the woman is gradually moved to the position of non-earning house-wife, her options for many areas of personal independence of voice and action are almost eliminated. There are many homes in 'nice' neighbourhoods, where women are isolated and unable to complain or seek help without threatening whatever relationship, financial stability, and community and religious standing that she has. This is not a thing of the past, it is a serious problem today. To be labelled feminist for such women, is a serious 'flaw' that may be completely unacceptable. It is easy to label women as ill, who have no serious means to investigate problems or to gain their own independence. They are the women for whom marriage provides stability financially, but, at a very high personal cost. In this male dominated world, it can and often does mean isolation from their children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren, all people for whom these women could and should be a close friend and help. In such families, you will see the men having so much more power over the minds and activities of the children that it is quite sick, while the women suffer in silence so they are not punished in worse ways. Other women join with the men in comdemning these women. This is not written from a research perspective, but from personal observation.

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WOMEN IN POVERTY - TALES FROM THE RECESSION'S FRONT LINES SERIES

Series Overview

Poverty - Tales from the Recession's Front Lines

Part: 12

Welfare Recipients Enjoy Bright Spots of Support

Part: 11

Health Reform Reality Kicks In: Costs Still High

Part: 10

Welfare Job Rules Hit Women With Disabilities

Part: 9

Federal Job Funding Opens Doors for Single Mothers

Part: 8

Diapers Not Eligible for Food Stamps? Crazy!

Part: 7

U.S. Law Puts Credit Card Debt Before Single Moms

Part: 6

Need Welfare in Bronx? Come Back Tomorrow, Maybe

Part: 5

Hard Times Test Obama's Promise of More Medicaid

Part: 4

Marriage Loses Ground as Anti-Poverty Panacea

Part: 3

New Health Law Could Shield Women from Poverty

Part: 2

Scholarships Help Work Around Welfare Limits

Part: 1

At Welfare Hearings, Calls to Help Single Mothers