Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Marriage not a quick poverty fix

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In 2012, 13.7 percent of American adults ages 18-64 were in poverty, as were almost 22 percent of children under the age of 18. Eighty percent of adults in the United States are also dealing with near-poverty and unemployment. It’s clear: The nation has a poverty (not to mention unemployment) crisis on its hands.

But fear not, the GOP has a solution.

Earlier this month, which marked the 50th anniversary of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” Sen. Marco Rubio gave a speech in which he argued, “The greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government program. It’s called marriage.”

That’s right. Are you living in poverty? Get married.

This isn’t a new conservative argument. The GOP has long been against what they call “government handouts” (i.e., unemployment benefits) as a solution to poverty, and balk at the idea of raising the minimum wage. According to Rubio’s speech, those are “partial solutions” that help people to merely “deal” with poverty rather than “emerge” from it.

With those words, Rubio was attempting to eloquently disguise a hateful message: Sorry poor people, the government shouldn’t be responsible for helping you to not be poor anymore.

And though I disagree with that particularly mean sentiment, it is a fairly common one. So, people who subscribe to it must then also subscribe to different solutions, like marriage, particularly aimed at single-mother families. But while many right-wingers blame the breakdown of the family unit for poverty woes, experts say marriage just isn’t the answer.

Recently, Maria Shriver, in partnership with the Center for American Progress, released a report detailing economic realities facing women, in which Director of the Children and Families Program at Next Generation Ann O’Leary writes, “Rather than promoting marriage as a silver bullet for women’s economic troubles, the government should instead promote policies that allow women to complete their educations, to find stable and well-paying jobs, and to have the work supports necessary to meet their family needs…”

O’Leary gets it exactly right. Just over four million single-mother families are living in poverty in the United States. To tell them that marriage is the only way out is not only offensive, but it also does a great disservice to impoverished single mothers (and people) everywhere to not provide them with actual concrete and stable solutions that they can take advantage of on their own.

The slightly unnerving part is that, at first glance, the marriage argument makes sense. Two people making money in a family is better-off, economically and otherwise, than a household with only one. But assuming that it’s as easy to just get married as the GOP thinks it is, there’s still another problem with this position.

For single-mothers living in poverty, the pool of potential spouses around them lacks many people who would be financially stable enough to help support a family. Kristie Williams, Ph.D., with the Council on Contemporary Families, made this exact argument in a report in which she argues that the flaw in the marriage argument lies in the assumption that “all marriages are equally beneficial.” They aren’t. She writes, “Single mothers are especially likely to marry men who have children from other partnerships, who have few economic resources, who lack a high-school diploma, or who have been incarcerated or have substance abuse problems.” These issues combine to form the precise antidote to healthy and economically successful partnerships.

Steve Randy Waldman, author of the blog Interfluidity, makes a similar argument, claiming that marriage promotion to impoverished communities is “not merely ineffective. It is at best ineffective.” He writes that our current socially and economically stratified society allows for “good marriage prospects” (or those who are economically and socially stable) to hold out for other “good marriage prospects.” So, the pool that’s left over after these good prospects marry each other “may often be, objectively, a bad one.”

In other words, society’s economic inequality doesn’t leave impoverished single mothers with an adequate pool of these good marriage prospects. Entering into marriages with not-so-good prospects won’t improve the fundamental aspects of their lives and might in fact make them worse. And as Waldman writes, marriage promoters might be doing harm by suggesting marriage as a solution despite knowing the likelihood of an impoverished community marrying poorly.

This all isn’t to say that marriage can’t be a good thing—it can be, and often is. But if people decide to marry, it should be for other reasons, not because it’s the only way to “emerge” from poverty. Marriage cannot be the singular answer to one of the most damaging and serious social issues facing the United States today. It fails to provide any true or immediate assistance to those who need it. If the GOP truly cares about helping the impoverished, they’ll have to come up with a better solution than matrimony.

Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • G

    Genghis KhanFeb 3, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    “Subtle racist overtones”? Ah. So I’m against welfare, therefore I must be anti-black and a bigot to boot. Funny, why don’t you tell my non-Caucasian wife that. If you’re hearing the dog whistle, you’re the dog.

    Second – superincumbency works both ways.

  • S

    sugarfree-koolaidJan 30, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Mr Khan, if i may call you that. i disagree with your comment. For starters i think that your comment, “welfare destroyed the family,” is completely true, but i think it is the lack of available and meaningful welfare services that is destroying the family. These people on welfare deserve more, and they need it as well. Along side your subtle racist undertones, i feel you lack knowledge of the history and beginning of the American welfare system. Which was originally set up to aid young soldiers returning from the second World War. The greatest generation was in fact the first project rats, welfare babies, and free loaders. Isn’t it terribly ironic that the bane of most conservative’s existence, welfare programs, originated to help the people whom republicans place on top a pedestal. Also i find it a little staggering that conservatives blame those on welfare for americas dwindling economy yet they have less than 15% of america’s wealth. If handing out welfare checks is such a cancer on US economy, shouldn’t the poorest americans, as a whole, control more capital then the top one percent, or ten percent for that matter.

    Secondly your point about democrats receiving a steady stream of votes may be true, but then again, how many Republican members of congress are super-incumbents who would have to try to not get re-elected. Many areas of the south and midwest rarely vote in new politicians. Also Genghis, the majority of the lower class does not vote. the poor, unemployed, and minorities have some of the lowest voter turn outs. Though most welfare collectors may support the Democratic party, many do not put there support into the ballot box.

    Finally, the article you used as an example is a blog post. Aka someone’s opinion that was not properly fact checked before it was posted on the site. The website is a very right leaning website. The site’s founders are republicans, they could easily omit blog posts that do not align with their agendas. Your whole post is based on media that is incredibly bias. AmericanThinker is often praised by society’s pillar of subjectivity, Rush Limbaugh. Last of all, the adverts all over the site are paid for by astroturf groups like freedom works and the tea party. I thought the funniest ad was this one at the bottom that called to “fire speaker Boehner,” It’s a cute little trick which masks the site’s illegitimacy with phony displays of bipartisanship. I almost fell for it, too. Don’t Feel bad. It says “Freedomworks” along the bottom. Meaning that Ad wanted to replace Boehner because he isn’t Republican ENOUGH to be speaker.

    In short, i appreciate your “Noble Intentions” but what you have provided with you comment is a farce and the information you provided from a secondary source has very little credibility.

  • A

    archamboJan 30, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Hello Genghis,

    It appears that the poverty rate has much to do with the overall economic condition of the country (i.e., the booms and busts).

    I doubt even a significant reason for the cyclical nature of our economy is the ~11% of GDP that goes to the main anti-poverty programs. (rough calculation from these numbers: — and this includes Social Security).

    It’s also the case that the U.S. has one of the highest marriage rates in the developed world. Higher than countries with much lower child poverty rates (that’s the point of the marriage after all, isn’t it?)


    The evidence suggests that things are a bit more complicated than you claim.

    Have a nice day.

  • G

    Genghis KhanJan 30, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Anyone who marries “just” to try and get out of poverty is making a mistake.

    But it’s a provable fact:

    1. Be married before you have children
    2. Be employed
    3. Finish high school

    The odds that you will be poor are astonishingly low. Because all of these are indicative of RESPONSIBILITY FOR ONESSELF.

    Who are among the poorest of Americans? Those who have had children with “Uncle Sugar” stepping in to fill the role of the father – why? Because welfare destroyed the family. The “noble intentions” of the Left have arguably been the largest contributors to poverty in America. And I would argue this is a feature, not a bug… people on entitlements vote for those who provide them – thus creating a steady stream of votes for Democrat politicians who take from others, distribute that money, and then brag about how charitable THEY are (and using the threat of cuts to excoriate the other side.

    For example, read this:

  • C

    ChrisJan 30, 2014 at 4:34 am

    I sincerely think that if someone enters into a marriage only to escape poverty, then s/he is bound to live an unhappy life forever after, and a life spent in emotional “abuse” can nowhere be better than poverty.