Hold On, Conservatives, Marriage Is No Poverty Cure-All

Without the tools to succeed, being married doesn't translate to economic mobility.

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Though the candidates rarely discussed poverty during the 2012 presidential election season, it now seems to have replaced the so-called war on women as the topic neither party can stop talking about. For the first time in my lifetime, Republicans and Democrats are trying to prove that they—not their opponents across the aisle—have a solid plan for ending income inequality in America.

While President Barack Obama makes a push for extending unemployment benefits and an increase in the minimum wage, conservatives are touting their own solution: marriage.

In a speech commemorating the anniversary of the war on poverty, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said, “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.” George W. Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer, wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal titled, “How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married.” And on Tuesday, the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker penned, “To Defeat Poverty, Look to Marriage.”

So which party is right?

Regular readers of The Root already know what I have to say about single parenthood. Though it makes people uncomfortable every single time I write about it (and even though my fabulous mom was once a single mother), the data confirms that being raised by a single parent is, on average, worse for children.

That’s not because single parents—often mothers—are bad people. It’s because children are expensive. And at last count, it costs nearly $250,000 to raise a child in America, a number that does not include college costs. That means that raising a child adequately is now a tall order for two people, and a steep, steep uphill climb for one—at least if you want to do it right.

Barely getting by or living paycheck to paycheck may be OK for an adult. But that should not be the type of life into which any of us knowingly brings a child. And unless you are a member of the “1 percent,” if you are single and choose to have a child, if he is not born into poverty he will always be one emergency or one job loss away from poverty. And unless he is a gifted academic or gifted athlete, college will be an impossibility.

We should want more for children than that.

Common sense dictates that two paychecks put together will go further in running a household and raising children than one. That’s why people have roommates. So conservatives are right that marriage can make financial situations better.

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