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Unformatted text preview: Policy Report September 2001 Marriage as Public Policy by Daniel T. Lichter Introduction Welfare reform has been a huge success, if measured by reductions in caseloads. Since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was passed in 1996, welfare caseloads have plummeted, and are lower today than at any time since 1969. 1 Such diverse states as Wisconsin, Idaho, and Mississippi have experienced reductions of 80 percent or more since 1993. 2 With reauthorization of the bill looming, much of the welfare debate has shifted to questions of how best to build on this success. 3 Many observers—from across the political spectrum—suggest that policies that strengthen marriage and reduce divorce should be at the center of the debate. Indeed, an explicit but largely ignored goal of PRWORA has been to “encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.” Most state TANF programs have focused on moving non-working welfare-dependent mothers into the labor force, and only a few states have taken steps to encourage marriage or reduce divorce. Oklahoma, for example, has earmarked 10 percent of TANF surplus funds to reduce divorce, and Florida enacted the “Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act,” which includes teaching marriage skills as part of the school curriculum. The relative lack of attention to marriage promotion has prompted some advocates to argue that government should act much more aggressively to pursue a pro-marriage agenda. A recent report by the Heritage Foundation, for example, proposes a set-aside of 10 percent of TANF funds for marriage promotion programs. 4 Supporters of marriage promotion rightly contend that marriage confers a variety of benefits. For example, married women have much lower rates of poverty and are less dependent on government assistance than single or divorced mothers, and children do best being raised by both biological parents. 5 In general, married parents also have better mental health, lower rates of alcoholism, and are more likely to be civically engaged. Although promoting marriage is undeniably a laudable aim, whether government programs can effectively promote marriage is far from certain. Government has virtually no track record on this issue. Moreover, before Congress commits to making significant investments in an unproven arena, policy makers must address an even more fundamental question: Can marriage really be a panacea that Progressive Policy Institute www.ppionline.org 2 helps poor women and their children lead better lives or are supporters of marriage promotion overpromising the benefits of their agenda? Answering this question isn’t easy. Although the empirical evidence in support of marriage is incontrovertible, there is still a great deal we need to know before state TANF programs move too rapidly into uncharted territory. Studies on the “retreat from marriage” in the United States abound, but we have surprisingly little information about the marital behavior of those women about whom policy makers are most...
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This note was uploaded on 10/28/2009 for the course PAM 2030 taught by Professor Lichler during the Fall '08 term at Cornell.
- Fall '08