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.

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The Fatherhood Innovation Fund will have marriage and relationship components, but will also provide resources for mental health and domestic violence.

Government sources could not immediately confirm that total funding for marriage promotion would actually decrease under Obama's expanded approach.

Two Study Outliers Emerge

Two outliers emerged in the study of the Building Strong Families program.

While the program registered zero impact in six of eight total sites, two locations, Baltimore and Oklahoma, reported conflicting results.

Baltimore couples in the study suffered a higher incidence of physical assault and fathers were less likely to financially support their children. In Oklahoma, the opposite happened to those enrolled in the program--the couples' relationships improved, as did the economic assistance from the fathers.

These cases fuel the arguments for both sides of the marriage promotion debate.

Tim Casey is a senior attorney with Legal Momentum, a women's advocacy group based in New York. Since the inception of the Healthy Marriage Initiative Casey's group has raised concerns about pushing women into potentially abusive relationships.

"When the government is involving itself in relationships between individuals it has to be very, very sensitive to the issue of domestic violence," said Casey. He noted that between 50 and 60 percent of women on welfare are victims of domestic violence.

Casey said that federal funds are wasted on unproven marriage programs. Instead, they should be devoted to economic supports like cash assistance, child care and transitional employment.

On the other side of the debate, Robert Rector, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation based in Washington, D.C., argues that marriage promotion is still untested, since the millions so far invested in marriage promotion is a pittance compared to the billions of other welfare assistance that single mothers receive annually. He said marriage promotion programs didn't get the kind of public advertising and education they needed.

"Evaluating Building Strong Families alone without that social context is like evaluating a smoking cessation program without the surgeon general's warning and then concluding that you can't stop cigarette smoking," Rector said in an interview.

No Impact on Family Economic Well-Being

The May study of marriage promotion programs found they had "no effect on family economic well-being." The differences in families who participated in the program living in poverty, struggling to pay bills and receiving welfare compared to a control group were statistically insignificant.

Nakia Otteen, 25, of Del City, Okla., joined Family Expectations, a relationship education program that was part of the recent study. As an expectant mother she learned how to communicate better with the baby's father. Otteen described her partner as a good person, father and companion. They plan to marry.

But when asked why she hasn't yet married, Otteen answered that she wanted to feel more economically secure first.

"It really is financial right now," she said, explaining that the baby had caused financial strain, her partner's job was unstable and she wanted to move from her two-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom house before saying "I do."

Another Family Expectations participant, Tanille Adair, 22, of Oklahoma City, Okla., expressed wariness about relying on a man's financial support.

"You can have a man that got a lot of money and do you dirty and that's not cool," she said.

Adair was required to attend the program as a welfare recipient. A mother of two, she knows the disadvantages that many children face when growing up in single parent households. But she says she hasn't met the right person and a wedding is costly.


Julia Marsh is a Washington-based correspondent covering domestic and foreign affairs for a Japanese newspaper.

For more information:

The U.S. Administration for Children and Families report:

The Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund:

What is Marriage Promotion? Legal Momentum:

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At Welfare Hearings, Calls to Help Single Mothers

Economic Policy

Scholarships Help Work Around Welfare Limits

Economic Policy

New Health Law Could Shield Women from Poverty

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.


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