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Now we know, marriage is cost-effective

By Carey Roberts
web posted April 28, 2008

It's long been known that family break-up inflicts massive social costs on communities and children. But what about the burden it imposes on the American taxpayer?

It's a proven fact that family dissolution places children at greater risk of poverty, mental and physical illness, juvenile delinquency, abuse, substance abuse, and educational failure. A few years ago Wade Horn, former director of the federal Administration for Children and Families, revealed, "My agency spends $46 billion per year operating 65 different social programs. If one goes down the list of these programs... the need for each is either created or exacerbated by the breakup of families and marriages."

But what about the impact of heavier demands on the criminal justice system? Medical care services? And losses in tax revenues? At last we have a good idea of the answer.

Earlier this month the Institute for American Values released its ground-breaking report, "Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing." Researched by economist Benjamin Scafidi, the document lays out an elegant four-step logic:

1. Anti-poverty programs like TANF, housing assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, etc. – family break-up is responsible for 32% of these programs' costs.

2. Government programs for children such as Head Start, SCHIP, school breakfast programs, etc. – family dissolution causes 36% of these costs.

3. Justice system -- 24% of crime is the result of childhood poverty.

4. Lost taxes – Newly employed workers would presumably pay taxes to the IRS (10% of wages), state and local government (11%), and FICA (15%).

Tally up the numbers and – voila! – the total taxpayer cost of fragile families comes out to $112 billion dollars a year. That's billion with a B.

But what's clear is these numbers vastly underestimate the financial impact of family break-down, in at least three ways.

When men marry, their wages go up 8-15%, thus increasing tax revenues.

Second, children who grow up in a single-parent household are at greater risk of health problems and sexual promiscuity. Even if they don't fall into the clutches of poverty, they will likely call upon federally-subsidized programs to render medical help and care for their children.

And single elderly women are four times more likely to be warehoused in a nursing home, compared to their married counterparts. That places an enormous burden on Medicaid.

In one respect, though, the Institute for American Values report is flawed. To encourage persons to marry, IAV proposes "marriage-strengthening programs." But touting the marriage education Band-aid is like saying we can fix a broken welfare system by teaching teenage moms to refrain from sex.

The reason for plummeting marriage rates, of course, is not a dearth of marriage education. The problem is tangle of laws and programs that weaken the role of marriage, marginalize fathers, and dangle incentives in front of women to leave their families.

Like the school curricula that teach gay marriage is morally equivalent to heterosexual union.

Like the no-fuss, no-fault divorce laws that allow partners to casually discard their sacred vows.

Like the gender studies programs that brainwash co-eds into believing marriage exploits women. (According to rad-fem Catherine MacKinnon: "Feminism stresses the indistinguishability of prostitution, marriage, and sexual harassment.")

It's the domestic violence programs, underwritten to the tune of $1 billion in federal money each year, that escalate partner conflict and prohibit couples counseling, all the while fostering contempt for men.

It's ham-fisted child support programs that take away persons' drivers' licenses and toss low-income dads in jail.

It's the deplorable Supreme Court Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that precludes a father from being informed about his partner's plan to abort.

And it's female empowerment programs like the federally-endorsed "Girl Power!" that undercut the role of families.

For years social and fiscal conservatives have co-existed in a sometimes uneasy alliance – call it a marriage of convenience if you will. "We'll tolerate your musings on abortion and gay marriage, just so long as you don't fool with our tax cuts and de-regulation plans," the green-visored conservatives would say.

But now, both wings of conservatism have found common ground – restore the traditional family, rally around the needs of children, staunch the growth of social welfare programs, and save billions in taxpayer money.

Call it a match made in heaven. ESR

Carey Roberts is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.


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