[Hpn] WELFARE: Should providers push single moms to marry?
Mon, 19 Feb 2001 13:50:04 -0800 (PST)
Should welfare providers push single mothers to marry?
If poor single mothers marry, will they & their children be better off?
Will they be better off under a US government which defines
"single parenthood" as an "immmoral choice"?
FWD Associated Pres - AP Wire Service - Feb 11 2001
NEW WELFARE DEBATE CENTERS ON MARRAIGE
By LAURA MECKLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Conservatives who successfully argued that the
nation's welfare system must aggressively push poor people into
jobs are preparing to push something more personal: marriage.
They argue that the breakdown of the two-parent family is the
root cause of welfare dependence, and that millions of Americans
will remain trapped in poverty unless the nation fosters a culture
of marriage in poor communities.
``All the data we have says that kids do best when they grow up
in two-parent families,'' said Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif.,
chairman of the House Ways and Means welfare subcommittee, who
plans hearings on the issue. ``We'd like to see a return to the
family unit and to family values.''
Nationally, one in three babies is born to unmarried parents.
And among women with less than a high school education, 60 percent
were unmarried when they gave birth.
One of the 1996 welfare law's central purposes was to encourage
formation of two-parent families, but so far states have spent
little time, energy or money to this end. That is partly because it
raises sensitive questions about the role of government and partly
because there is little evidence about what works.
Now debate is beginning over what changes are needed to that
law, which must be renewed by next year, and conservatives are
laying the groundwork for a stronger focus on marriage. Liberals
have concerns, but are not rejecting their ideas out of hand.
_requiring states to spend part of their welfare money on
_encouraging caseworkers to talk to pregnant women about
marrying the fathers of their unborn babies.
_judging state success based on reductions in out-of-wedlock
_teaching about the value of marriage in high school.
_sponsoring experiments to see what programs might produce more
The role of marriage in social policy has been a contentious,
painful debate since 1965, when a future senator, Daniel Patrick
Moynihan, prompted charges of racism with his report on the
breakdown of black family. Pointing to the rising number of black
babies born to unmarried parents, he suggested that the absence of
fathers and male role models _ along with the income they provide _
explained myriad social problems.
At the time, about one in four black babies was born to
unmarried parents. By 1999, it was 69 percent.
Still, 35 years later, there is little agreement on how to put
``Until we get more evidence, I'm not so sure we should be
spending huge sums of money here,'' said Wendell Primus, a welfare
authority at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, who left
a top welfare job in the Clinton administration to protest the
president's decision to sign the 1996 overhaul.
``There are clearly some marriages that aren't going to work,''
Primus added. ``Government can't force two people to love each
other when their relationship has broken apart.''
Sandra Robertson, an advocate for the poor in Georgia, suggests
that poor women are perfectly capable of deciding when marriage is
right for them.
``I'm especially surprised that the party that talks about
wanting government out of our lives, of wanting government to stay
away from social engineering, seems to have a desire to do that for
poor people,'' Robertson said.
Others worry that women may wind up pressured to stay in
unhealthy _ even abusive _ relationships.
Robert Rector, a leading conservative welfare expert, argues
that government should not coerce anyone into marriage but should
suggest and encourage it. With a push, he says, some couples are
bound to succeed.
``You could say, `Here's a mentoring group. You don't have to do
this. But it's a free group to try and improve a relationship that
can lead you to a lifetime of love and commitment,''' he said. ``I
think it's absolutely tragic that we don't do anything like that
Talking about marriage would be a giant departure for welfare
caseworkers, who used to simply calculate whether an applicant was
eligible for benefits, said Susan Golonka, welfare expert at the
National Governors Association. Caseworkers have already expanded
their duties to include job counseling, and adding marriage
counseling would be another big step.
``There would be a lot of people who would be uncomfortable,''
There is little pro-marriage activity in social policy today.
Some fatherhood programs work to help fathers find jobs _ partly so
they can pay child support _ and to participate in their children's
lives. But co-parenting, not marriage, is the focus.
Primus, Robertson and other liberals are not rejecting the
marriage push wholesale, suggesting Rector may be right when he
predicts a growing consensus for a stronger focus on marriage.
``I don't think progressives should be scared of this issue,''
Primus said. ``We also believe in marriage and two-parent
And Robertson, who directs the Georgia Citizens' Coalition on
Hunger, says: ``It's clear when a child is wanted, and when a child
has two parents ... that child has a better chance.''
Received Id AP101042CF7BFD8E on Feb 11 2001 12:08
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material
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Regarding Welfare Reform's impacts, its historical roots,
and poor women's roles in Welfare Rights activism, see:
"Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and welfare in the United States"
by Mimi Abramovitz, Monthly Review Press, New York (Updated editon: 2000)
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