Divorce and unwed childbearing are costing Utah taxpayers at least $276 million a year, says The Sutherland Institute, which Tuesday announced that it is launching a Center for Family and Society.

The tax figures, part of a national study, "quantify the economic good of strong marriages," said Bill Duncan, the center's new director, who is also a professor at Brigham Young University.

The dollar estimates, which Duncan called "cautious," are part of research conducted by Georgia State University economist Ben Scafidi and unveiled this week in New York by four pro-marriage groups. The costs to taxpayers, he said, include lost tax revenue and money spent for programs such as food stamps and government subsidies for health care.

The researchers looked at households led by single mothers living in poverty; in Utah, 57.4 percent of total households in poverty are headed by females.

If those women married, 60 percent of them would be lifted out of poverty, thus reducing total poverty in Utah by 34.5 percent, Duncan said. Researchers didn't even take into account that "marriage makes men work harder and stay away from drugs," he added.

According to the study, "The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing," the national costs are $112 billion annually.

Sometimes there are extenuating factors — mental illness, the job market, drug abuse — that keep families from being stable, and sometimes it's "unwise" to keep some families together, he noted. But Sutherland's goal, he said, is to encourage government policies that strengthen marriage, promote marriage "as the union of a man and a woman," discourage family fragmentation by eliminating no-fault divorce, and uphold "a moral culture and local community standards."

"Every public policy has a momentum to it, a political and cultural momentum," added Sutherland President Paul Mero. "We pretty much have a divorce culture."

Although critics of the national report argue that job creation rather than marriage strengthening will do more to alleviate poverty, Mero responded that "I don't think all the jobs in the world matter if the community you live in has gone to hell."

The full report can be found at www.americanvalues.org/html/coff_mediaadvisory.htm.

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