At last, a moment we’ve been waiting for! The release of a major evaluation of marriage programs funded by federal welfare dollars titled “Early Impacts from the Building Strong Families Project,” written by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. under a federal contract. Punch line: they don’t work.
The executive summary is very worth reading. It does not sugar-coat the dismal results, and I love the opening line: “Although most children raised by single parents fare well, …”
Our friend Shawn Fremsted at Center for Economic & Policy Research does a nice job of summarizing, concluding that the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative was a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated. Hear hear!
Rather than re-hash, I’ll add a comment on how the report’s detailed information about program operations speaks to the question of whether marriage programs should receive anti-poverty funds. I’m writing from the perspective of having spent 13 years working in low income neighborhoods around NYC, designing and running social service and housing programs for TANF* recipients and other community residents.
Mathematica reports that “Most BSF programs had little or no effect on relationships; however, there were two notable exceptions. The Oklahoma City program had a consistent pattern of positive effects, while the Baltimore program had a number of negative effects.” Oklahoma City was the only one using a relationship curriculum especially designed for low-income / low-literacy couples. Baltimore recruited couples with the lowest incomes and the lowest levels of commitment to each other or the program. Oklahoma City’s program was purpose-built; Baltimore’s was added to a pre-existing program “known for providing employment and fatherhood services to low-income men since 1999.” Although only 45% of participants in OK City graduated, that is five times higher than all the other programs.
There are many other distinctions, of course. But these few suggest that these marriage programs didn’t just fail, they failed to address the realities of people with very low incomes who could have been receiving more effective anti-poverty services if TANF funds hadn’t been diverted by marriage-happy politicians.
We eagerly await the release of more marriage program evaluations. To learn more about the upcoming evaluations, and what we hope to learn from them, turn to page 14 of Let Them Eat Wedding Rings.
Sign the petition to help us stop the federal government from throwing more good money after bad! If you are an expert on TANF and/or represent an organization that is working on TANF issues, join our professional coalition!
*TANF = Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the primary federal welfare program.