Don't Bother Trying to Wife Your Way Out of Poverty

Illustration for article titled Don't Bother Trying to Wife Your Way Out of Poverty

The Bush administration, those geniuses who brought us great ideas like a long, expensive war against a country that didn't have weapons of mass destruction and flying over Hurricane Katrina en route home from a vacay, had another Brains Turned Up to 11 idea that it now seems didn't work: a multimillion dollar federal program designed to encourage poor single mothers to get married, thus solving all of their financial (and moral) problems. But rather than cut funding to a wasteful, ineffective religious program designed around the assumption that what women need is a man, any ol' man, the government continues to pour millions and millions of dollars into so-called "healthy marriage" initiatives. Where's a giant Mission Accomplished banner when you need it?


The unholy union between the government and churches created programs that sound like they were written to be a humorous subplot on Parks & Recreation. The usual suspects in Congress — Rick Santorum, Chuck Grassley's crazy ass — were behind the Federal Healthy Marriage Initiative, which took bunches of money and threw it at organizations that presented seminars designed to put "a little sizzle" in low income people's marriages and encourage unmarried poor people to tie the knot already.

One such program, Laugh Your Way America, was designed by a non-Spanish speaking minister from the Midwest who adapted his Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminars to target poor Latinos. Nothing funnier or more marriage-solidifying than a white dude from Wisconsin trying to teach poor people about humor. I mean, laughter's some pretty good medicine, but you know what's better than laughter for curing stuff? Actual medicine. Like the medicine these low income people can't afford. Isn't that hilarious? I'm so amused that I could just get married!

The holy rollers in government flung another $WTF at a program designed by a rabbi that they adapted to target single black moms in DC. The program's usual attendees were upper middle class Maryland Jews.

Mother Jones reports that while research had shown that giving middle and upper-class couples access to healthy marriage workshops, there wasn't much evidence showing whether or not the programs worked similarly for low income groups. But this month, the research is in: the Federal Healthy Marriage Initiative is a huge-ass waste of money. It doesn't work. One Baltimore program that targeted unmarried couples with children produced zero results — no reduction in domestic violence rates, no increase in relationship satisfaction, zilch. In the programs that did show slight improvement in relationship happiness, the cost was astronomical — $7,000 to $11,500 per couple. MJ opines that perhaps couples would have been happier if they'd just been handed the money directly.

What the Federal Healthy Marriage Initiative did do was pour a lot of taxpayer money into the pockets of religious-led institutions, which it diverted from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or, if you want to be politically incorrect about it, "welfare"). Money that could have been spent, say, buying diapers for a baby or saved up for a family vacation or put in a kid's college fund was instead given to some clown acting out a real life Dave Chappelle skit about awkward cultural misunderstanding.

Incredibly, President Obama hasn't scrapped the entire program on the grounds that it's ridiculous and paternalistic. To his credit, he's tried to make it better by focusing less on encouraging marriage and more on job training and encouraging fathers to come correct. But that's still more than $100 million per year that's being spent on something that looks like it doesn't work, and was probably destined to fail. After all, how could one possibly expect success from a program about adding a spark to your marriage designed by the least sexy men in Washington? Just knowing that Rick Santorum had a hand in my marriage seminar would make me never want to have sex again.


[Mother Jones]

Image via Anna Nemkovich/Shutterstock



Marriage is a financial institution as much as one of "love." And it's not necessarily sacred. Marriages where both partners work are financially more secure which is one of many reasons why I support gay marriage. So no, I don't see a problem with promoting marriage among low income families. In fact, I think it's a great idea.

Single motherhood is a tremendous financial strain. Children of single mothers, particularly low-income single mothers are more likely to continue the cycle of poverty. Please don't give me an anecdote about how you had a single mother and you went to Yale. I'm talking statistics.

"In the programs that did show slight improvement in relationship happiness, the cost was astronomical — $7,000 to $11,500 per couple. "

That doesn't sound astronomical. What's the cost of welfare for a year. Also, if promoting marriage works to help break the cycle of poverty, what's so wrong about that?