Forget income inequality — 'marriage inequality' is the real issue
Ari Fleischer writing in the Wall Street Journal threw down a challenge to the Obama administration. "If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality," Fleischer wrote, "he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family."
Experts, pundits and policymakers love to argue the causes and solutions for poverty and income inequality. Fleischer, a former spokesman for the Bush administration, assembled the numbers in his argument that "marriage inequality" is at the root of economic inequality: "According to Census Bureau information analyzed by the Beverly LaHaye Institute, among families headed by two married parents in 2012, just 7.5 percent lived in poverty. By contrast, when families are headed by a single mother the poverty level jumps to 33.9 percent."
Fleischer points out that the numbers of kids growing up with a single mom is growing. In 1964, only 7 percent of children didn't have married parents. Now it is 28.6 percent (for Hispanics it is 52.5 percent and African-Americans it is 72.3 percent).
And the difference, he says, between the haves and have-nots is marriage. Those that have, marry. Those that have not, do not marry.
An article in the Deseret News on the financial net worth of getting married looked at how the concept of marriage has been separated from economic success. But that is only in people's minds. A research survey report by Alex Roberts at the Institute for American Values in 2010 found the economic impact of marriage is huge — increasing net worth by as much as 600 percent.
Today, that increase does not mean that the wife stays at home, however.
Derek Thompson at The Atlantic says married women have nearly tripled their average workweek since the 1950s. "The typical family with a stay-at-home wife/mom has seen incomes grow only 1 percent, after inflation, since 1980," he writes. "But dual-earner households have seen a 29 percent raise, according to 2012 Census data."
Meanwhile, single mothers are in a difficult place.
"The decline in marriage rates among poorer men and women robs parents of supplemental income, of work-life balance and of time to prepare a child for school," Thompson says. "Single-parenthood and inter-generational poverty feed each other. The marriage gap and the income gap amplify one another."
David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement disagrees with Fleischer's opinions and says that getting married will not stop people from being poor and that data is not causation. "Fleischer does not once mention access to health care, contraception, or reality-based sex-education," Badash says. "Nor does (Fleischer), by the way, mention marriage equality."
Badash's "marriage equality," of course has to do with same-sex marriage. He also criticizes Fleischer for taking statistics from a group that doesn't support same-sex marriage.
Rick Nauert at PsychCentral says research by Kristi Williams at The Ohio State University shows that "marriage fails to provide the same benefits to poor, single mothers as it does for others. In fact, research shows that single mothers living in impoverished neighborhoods are likely to marry men who won't help them get out of poverty."
A single mother who marries will likely find a man who already has children, didn't graduate from high school and may have been in jail and have drug problems. This leads, naturally, to divorce and even worse financial conditions for the mom made single again, Nauert says.
The solution according to Williams' research? Prevent "unintended births."
Phil Lawler at CatholicCulture.org summarized Charles Murray's look at the morality behind marriage: " The wealthy and well educated still abide by the rules of the old moral order, even if they scoff at the ideas behind those rules, because they recognize that these rules define the path to success. The poor and ignorant, having no experience of success, disdain the old rules — often with the encouragement of elite leaders in the fields of education, information and entertainment. And they suffer for it."
Thompson at the Atlantic says the problem with single parents is obvious: "This is the marriage crisis behind our inequality crisis. It is not complicated. It requires no regressions. It is the simplest math equation is the world. It says: Two is more than one."
For Fleischer at the Wall Street Journal, the solution is clear. It isn't to get the single mothers married after the fact, but to help the poor do things in the right order: School. Marriage. Children.
But that would require single mothers — and presidents — to buy into Fleischer's arguments.