Washington Times

Published 6/9/2002

Marriage and welfare reform

House Editorial
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The timing of the latest welfare-reform/marriage research presented on Monday's front page of the New York Times, "Strict Limits on Welfare Benefits Discourage Marriage, Studies Say" would appear to be quite beneficial for the New York Times and other liberal institutions and advocates who believe that, when it comes to welfare recipients, less work is preferable to more. The paper and the vast majority of Democrats oppose the increased work requirements in the welfare-reform reauthorization legislation that the House of Representatives recently passed. Specifically, the House bill would require states to raise the percentage of working welfare recipients from 50 percent to 70 percent; and it would increase the time recipients must spend on work-related activity to 40 hours, including up to 16 hours for training, drug-rehab or schooling.

The June 3 story in the Times cited studies in Connecticut and Iowa showing that the work requirements imposed by the 1996 welfare-reform law appeared to "significantly reduce the chances that a single mother will wed." The recent research suggested that women whose incomes increased as they moved from welfare to employment became less willing to accept the wrong man as a marriage partner. The increased work effort also apparently made the women too tired to pursue and nourish a relationship, according to the authors of the studies.

"[N]either critics nor champions of the nation's 1996 welfare overhaul contemplated the possibility that replacing welfare with work would discourage marriage," the Times observed. Maybe so. But the issue is hardly settled by these two studies. Indeed, in further noting that "policy makers disagreed in the past about whether old-style welfare was encouraging out-of-wedlock births," the Times even refuses to concede the self-evident. That is the irrefutable connection between the "War on Poverty's" dramatic increases in means-tested welfare-style payments to single mothers and the subsequent explosion of births to unmarried women. This illegitimacy rate, as it was universally known in less politically correct times, more than quadrupled in three decades, rising from less than 8 percent of all births in 1965 to more than 32 percent 30 years later.

Compared to the indisputable causal connection between simultaneously soaring welfare payments and illegitimacy, the latest research, which purports to find a relationship between welfare work requirements and a relative decline in marriage among those so affected, rests on some weak evidence. This is due to the fact that state welfare bureaucrats, in implementing the 1996 reform law, have essentially ignored two explicitly stated goals of the legislation the reduction of illegitimacy and an increase in marriage. As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has found, "Overall, the government spends $1,000 subsidizing single parents for every $1 it spends trying to reduce illegitimacy and increase marriage."

From the federal government's cumulative $100 billion welfare block grant dispensed to the states since 1996, a mere $11 million has been allocated to reduce illegitimacy and promote marriage. This year's reauthorization includes requirements that the active pursuit of these important goals finally be undertaken. In the mean time, isn't it good news that the New York Times seems to recognize the benefits of marriage?

copyright © 2002 News World Communications, Inc.