Much has been written on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and the trillions of dollars that have been spent to improve the lives of the least fortunate among us.
Yet after 50 years, poverty statistics are little changed. The official measure of those living in poverty now stands at 15 percent, almost exactly the same as in the 1960s. Thus, the question: After so much money and so much effort, why are more than 47 million people in the United States poor?
There aren’t simple answers to this question. Some factors are beyond our control, such as rapid advances in technology and the globalization of labor. Both dramatically affected less educated and unskilled workers. Other adverse factors, however, were thought to be lessened by intelligent government policies. Those policies have not been as effective as was hoped.
Today, one factor in particular deserves greater attention: marriage. In 2012, among families headed by two married parents the poverty level was 7.5 percent. In families headed by a single mother, the level was 34 percent over four times higher. In addition, children growing up in a home without a father are three times more likely to end up in jail and 50 percent more likely to be poor as adults.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the importance of marriage in avoiding poverty and other social ills, government and society haven’t yet figured out how to effectively promote successful marriages. This is especially ironic in light of the huge costs involved in dealing with many children of single-parent families. The Heritage Foundation reports that these children are more likely to be physically abused, smoke, drink, drop out of high school, use drugs, and engage in violent and criminal behavior.
Of course, not all single-parent children fit into any of these categories. There are almost heroic single parents (especially mothers) who raise wonderful children. But both statistics and common sense tell us that intact families are ideal, and an important part of a cohesive society.
Government can help by rethinking existing tax and welfare policies, and how they are linked to marriage. At present the focus is almost exclusively on helping those who aren’t married, or aren’t raising children in intact marriages. There are almost no incentives or rewards for marriages and intact families. Many critics summarize current government policies by saying they subsidize failure and ignore success.
The statistics are stunning and absolutely awful. After 50 years, it’s time to try some new ideas.
Grand Island (Neb.) Independent