National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  November 28, 2003

Intact families and poverty

The connection between intact families and poverty has been a source of controversy for nearly 40 years. A 1965 report authored by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for Policy Planning and Research, said that the 26 percent illegitimacy rate for black children represented a “crisis.” Today, a third of all children are the product of unmarried parents, while nearly 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock.

In 1986, Moynihan, by then the senior senator from New York and chairman of the Finance Committee, sponsored legislation that provided incentives for welfare-receiving couples to stay together (such as continued Medicaid coverage and Food Stamps for families that moved off the welfare rolls).

But it was not until the late 1980s that the fledgling “marriage movement” made the explicit connection between the benefits of matrimony, involved fathers and poverty. By the time Congress passed another welfare reform measure, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, advocates successfully placed marriage squarely in the antipoverty mainstream. The legislation called for an “end [to] dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work and marriage.”

Though most states emphasized the work and job preparation elements of the legislation, a few entered the marriage promotion business. According to a September 2002 Health and Human Services report “six states have mentoring or counseling programs that aim to strengthen relationships.” Arizona leads the way, having provided grants to 11 organizations to “offer marriage and communications skills programs statewide.” A much-heralded $10 million Oklahoma program trains caseworkers in marriage education and provides grants to church-based and secular groups that employ the “Prevention and Relationships Enhancement Program” curriculum.

In West Virginia, welfare-receiving parents who wed now receive an additional $100 a month in assistance.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, November 28, 2003

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