Archive for the ‘economics & poverty’ Category
Stop taking low-income fathers’ money away from their children; help fathers form better relationships with children and mothers; don’t make legal marriage more important than good parenting. Finally, the federal government’s approach to the role of family structure in the lives of low-income children is starting to look more reasonable and realistic.
In a conference call last week, two Special Assistants to the President revealed the administration’s new strategy for TANF grants. The $150 million annual allocation for Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood will be split evenly between the two program types ($75M for marriage and $75M for fatherhood) in next year’s budget as well as this year’s current funding. There will be a new competition for these funds, and previous grantees will have to demonstrate past success to be considered for future grants. Marriage programs can’t get fatherhood funds just to keep doing marriage stuff (or vice versa).
This amounts to a permanent 25% reduction in marriage promotion and 33% increase in fatherhood funding. On the call, Martha Coven, Special Assistant to the President for Mobility and Opportunity, described it as a welcome increase for fatherhood. She also said the administration had decided to follow this funding pattern because it was acceptable to Congress, rather than dig in to fight for the much bigger state-level competition for innovative marriage, fatherhood and family programming which it had proposed last year.
The call further revealed the administration’s much bigger focus on fatherhood, in the form of a package of improvements to the child support system worth $2.8 billion over 10 years (i.e., averaging $280 million annually). The world of low-income child support collection is maddening for everyone, not least because it was originally designed as a cost recovery plan for welfare agencies. This design concept causes friction between mothers and fathers, fathers and children, families and agencies, courts and jails, and even between the federal and state governments. Much of the proposed federal funding will be used to pay the states to modernize and humanize their systems. Not my area of expertise, but sounds like a really good idea!
Now here’s the less good news – the line between fatherhood programs and marriage promotion is not as bright as you might hope. Here’s how federal law describes fatherhood programming (italics added):
1) Activities to promote marriage or sustain marriage through activities such as counseling, mentoring, disseminating information about the benefits of marriage and 2-parent involvement for children, enhancing relationship skills, education regarding how to control aggressive behavior, disseminating information on the causes of domestic violence and child abuse, marriage preparation programs, premarital counseling, marital inventories, skills-based marriage education, financial planning seminars, including improving a family’s ability to effectively manage family business affairs by means such as education, counseling, or mentoring on matters related to family finances, including household management, budgeting, banking, and handling of financial transactions and home maintenance, and divorce education and reduction programs, including mediation and counseling.
2) Activities to promote responsible parenting through activities such as counseling, mentoring, and mediation, disseminating information about good parenting practices, skills-based parenting education, encouraging child support payments, and other methods.
3) Activities to foster economic stability by helping fathers improve their economic status by providing activities such as work first services, job search, job training, subsidized employment, job retention, job enhancement, and encouraging education, including career-advancing education, dissemination of employment materials, coordination with existing employment services such as welfare-to-work programs, referrals to local employment training initiatives, and other methods.
4) Activities to promote responsible fatherhood that are conducted through a contract with a nationally recognized, nonprofit fatherhood promotion organization, such as the development, promotion, and distribution of a media campaign to encourage the appropriate involvement of parents in the life of any child and specifically the issue of responsible fatherhood, and the development of a national clearinghouse to assist States and communities in efforts to promote and support marriage and responsible fatherhood.
So, we can enjoy a modest celebration but it’s not time to kick back and relax. We’re pursuing two goals in 2011: first, to influence the ongoing use of TANF funds so that programs are less rigidly focused on marriage and more helpful to people in diverse relationships; second, to influence the reauthorization of TANF so that marriage promotion will not be stated as its primary purpose for the next five years.
The President of the United States has proposed the federal budget – his wish list of revenues and expenses covering the period October 1, 2011 – September 30, 2012. Budgets, whether federal, nonprofit or family, are statements of priorities, goals and hopes. AtMP keeps an eye on certain federal budget lines that show whether the government promotes legal, different-sex marriage as being better than other relationships or family forms.
Unfortunately, while cutting things people really need, the President is proposing to fund two marriage-related programs that should be abandoned because they are insulting at best, and downright dangerous at worst:
- the grant program called Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood is still carving out $150 million per year from welfare funds under the umbrella of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- to paraphrase our friends at SIECUS (the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States), the President is also continuing to put $50 million a year into Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which have been widely discredited and proven by the federal government’s own study to be ineffective.
I’ll get to the second program another time. Today I’m wondering: Why are the TANF programs still funded?
Marriage programs are not a presidential priority. In his budget statement, Obama does not mention marriage at all. He does discuss fatherhood, mostly in the context of the very good idea of urging states to let fathers’ child support payments reach their children instead of getting absorbed into state treasuries. But it took quite a bit of digging to find any reference to this funding continuation (fellow wonks, see page 473).
The administration knows that marriage programs don’t work. An evaluation of an eight-site TANF-funded marriage program found no net effects on participants’ relationships.
The President’s team tried to replace marriage programs last year. Joshua Dubois – Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships – spearheaded a campaign to replace marriage programs with a potentially better, experimental package focused on the economic needs of low-income parents. (We commented on it extensively here.)
Congress moved money from marriage to fatherhood last year. When Congress extended budget lines instead of passing a whole budget last year, it assigned $75 million instead of $100 million to marriage programs. Fatherhood programs got a corresponding increase from $50 to 75 million.
In sum, I see a glimmer of hope. Although the title and size of the budget item is the same, maybe there’s a plan to develop a completely different kind of operating program using that money. AtMP and our allies will keep an eye on it, and we’ll weigh in with suggestions about how federal funds could be put to good use to reduce poverty and improve child outcomes.
Here are some basic components: financial assistance to cover food, shelter, health care etc; early childhood education; relationship skills and supports to help adults be great parents and partners. Want more ideas about how reducing poverty can improve a child’s prospects ? There’s a compelling article by Duncan and Magnuson article starting on page 25 of this magazine on poverty, inequality and social policy.
While I’m on the topic of how your marital status shapes the way you’re affected by major federal legislation – let’s talk taxes! At the end of the year, Congress passed and the President signed a complicated tax package. In covering that news, many media reports mentioned the so-called “marriage penalty.” So let’s get that out of the way first. The Congressional Research Service says
“At all but the lowest and very highest income levels, singles pay higher taxes than married couples. The analysis of the marriage penalty indicates that marriage penalties have largely been eliminated for those without children throughout the middle-income range, but this change has inevitably expanded marriage bonuses. Marriage penalties remain at the high and low income levels and could also apply to those with children, where the penalty or bonus is not very well defined. But by and large, the current system is likely to encourage rather than discourage marriage and favors married couples over singles.”
This CRS report is a brand new update of the 2004 report that was the basis for AtMP’ s original tax policy analysis. If you value this kind of analysis, please donate $30 so I can purchase the new report, read the full detail and update our materials!
Speaking of details, did you know that 56% of taxpayers are unmarried? Due to our lower incomes (simplistically speaking), we paid 27% of all taxes after credits. (I calculated these 2008 figures from IRS data)
The fact that so many unmarried people have relatively low incomes means that we really got the short end of the stick in December’s big tax package. Our friend Shawn Fremstad does a great job of explaining how
some 51 million taxpayers will see their taxes go up in 2011. The vast majority of them—40 million tax units—are low-wage workers with incomes below $35,000. Low-income workers are the only income group that will lose income this year compared to 2010 under the deal.
I agree with Shawn’s suggested solution of “an increase in the EITC for low-wage workers without children.” The EITC, or Earned Income Tax Credit, is often called the U.S.’s biggest anti-poverty program (right up there with Social Security). The excessive impact of marital status on EITC is one policy area where complete ideological opposites can find common ground. I even find myself agreeing with Sam Brownback (and that’s REALLY funny!)
By the way, if you’re thrilled at the thought of further researching marital status & EITC, this student paper from Colgate University has a very nice bibliography and lit review.
The joint return (and special rates for married taxpayers) should be abolished as an incoherent penalty and subsidy of marriage. Joint filing is indefensible as a component of a progressive tax system. Marriage has many benefits, but the benefit most deserving of support is marriage’s connection with parenting. The contemporary reality is that parenting will occur outside of marriage, and parenting has high social benefits and high private costs. Although increased refundable child credits would be the most progressive method of implementing a parenting subsidy, simply retaining head of household status seems more likely.
I couldn’t bring myself to read all of Kornhauser‘s latest article. There’s no debating this, and I choose to see it as a call to action (whether or not that’s what she intended):
The nature of family, marriage, and religion are also important issues in America and the tax debates about the marital unit are an important area in which they are expressed. Consequently, congressional actions and rhetoric regarding the marital unit and marriage penalty—even if primarily symbolic — reaffirm a national commitment to marriage as instrumental to American democracy and tacitly acknowledge a similar importance of religion (which supports marriage).
The national health care reform law that passed last year took some important steps towards getting marital status out of people’s way when they’re trying to access affordable health care. It should not be repealed.
One nice step is that young couples no longer have to put off marriage in order to stay on their parents’ health plans.
A much bigger step is increased coverage for single people with low incomes. Scheduled to start in 2014, people who earn less than $15,000 per year will be eligible for Medicaid in every state. That’s hugely important because Medicaid has primarily been available to low-income mothers and children, with eligibility varying state by state.
Obviously, health care reform affects all of us, for reasons that go far beyond our marital status, and there are many other places you can find information on how it affects seniors, women, businesses, etc. But even if you care only about equality for unmarried people and ending marital status discrimination, you should speak out against repealing health care reform.
(If you’re completely sure the repeal effort is just a publicity stunt that doesn’t matter, then please take a moment to join the call for single payer, the one reform that really takes marital status out of the health care equation.)
If you’re on our email list, you recently saw my hopeful predictions for 2011. Here’s a bit more detail about what they mean and why I think they could come true.
Political candidates in majority-unmarried districts will drop their old “families first” slogans and start campaigning “for every single one of us.” An important use of the decennial Census is to redraw Congressional district lines so that each district contains roughly 1/435th of the population (that’s a simplification, of course). After the 2000 Census, our friends at Unmarried America produced a wonderful list of unmarried majority cities. We already have two volunteers willing to help crunch the latest Census figures, and we already have great feedback about what unmarried voters want candidates to say. We’ve sketched out a plan to find and draw attention to Congressional districts where most adults are unmarried. If you’re good with data and/or publicity, we can use your help to get this off the ground!
Scientists will discover that marital status discrimination is bad for people’s health, urging companies to treat unmarried employees fairly as a way to reduce healthcare costs. A fantastic advisory committee is helping us develop a research framework that could demonstrate the impact of marital status discrimination on public health. Our objective is to build widespread, high-level recognition that correlations between marital status and health outcomes are caused by laws or regulations that use marital status to determine access to healthcare. Demonstrating causality will support AtMP’s position that marital status discrimination in healthcare is a social justice problem to be solved.
Congress will rewrite the welfare law, replacing the 1990′s “marriage-only” preamble with words like: “the most important factor in a child’s upbringing is whether the child is brought up in a loving, healthy, supportive environment.” Those very words are in the preamble of the House bill mentioned in my last post – it gained 39 co-sponsors and supportive feedback from the administration last year. AtMP started advocating these changes a decade ago and we’re committed to seeing it through to success.
Major foundations will give AtMP grants to hire a full-time researcher / organizer to advance these and other projects. For the first time, a well-known LGBT foundation has invited AtMP to request a grant, and an experienced grant writer has volunteered to help me write a most compelling proposal. Wish us luck!
In the waning days of the year, marriage programs poured on the charm (i.e., lobbied like mad) and got themselves partially reinstated in the federal budget. Congress had not included marriage programs when it funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, the umbrella welfare program) from October through December 2010. However, it did include them in the new extension through September 2011, though at only three-quarters of their previous dollar level – $75 million instead of $100 million.
Fatherhood programs got a corresponding increase from $50 to 75 million. From the sidelines, it can be interesting to watch the tug of war between marriage and fatherhood programs. The Obama administration wanted to merge them into one, even bigger, program that would be managed by the states. Our analysis of all that is available here. Congress also seemed to favor programs that help low-income fathers get jobs and stay involved with their kids. A bill called the Julia Carson Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2009 (H.R. 2979) was being considered as an alternative to the administration’s proposal. That bill would have to start from scratch in the new Congress.
The extra year of funding will allow Congress (and us) to review the evaluation results for many more marriage programs before deciding whether to include them in the full five-year reauthorization of TANF. Of course, the programs are acutely aware of the importance of demonstrating positive results.
Last month we quietly celebrated the end of federal welfare funding for marriage programs. One reason our cheer was so muted was that Congress had let the programs die with a whimper by refusing to act on the President’s budget proposal. Instead of ensuring a safety net for very-low income people for years to come, Congress gave just a few months extension to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF – the main anti-poverty program). The extension did not cover marriage programs, nor did it cover “the Emergency Fund, which was created as a stimulus effort and helped millions of very low-income people make ends meet through the worst part of the Great Recession.” Next year we can hope for a full renewal of the safety net, plus a proper debate about whether marriage or relationship education belong in welfare funding.
At about that same anti-climactic moment, the Women of Color Policy Network published an interesting report about unmarried mothers. It has lots of good information, but strangely does not recommend policies to reduce marital status discrimination. This is especially surprising given single mothers’ low incomes, which might get a lift if we prohibited marital status discrimination in employment (yes, that’s still legal in all states except these).
Single mothers not only earn less than men, but they earn only 77 percent as much as married women with children and 87 percent as much as single women without children. In contrast, unmarried men with children earned 8 percent more than unmarried men without children.
As the report says, “lower earnings no doubt contribute to the wealth gap for single mothers, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.” Here are a few interesting excerpts about the intersection of wealth and marital status:
There is no single reason for the lack of wealth among single women mothers; the reasons are manifold and interrelated: lower wages and life-time earnings, occupational segmentation, lack of access to wealth escalators such as retirement and pension plans, and historic structural and institutional discrimination, among others. …
… Single mothers who have never been married have less wealth than women whose pathway to single motherhood was through divorce or widowhood. Divorced or widowed single mothers have a median wealth of $7,500 whereas single mothers who never married have a median wealth of zero. …
… Marriage is associated with higher wealth for two reasons: first, many women wait until they are financially stable to marry; second, marriage has wealth-building advantages such as economies of scale. Upon divorce, mothers may be able to access any wealth accumulated during marriage. Additionally, divorced single mothers are much more likely to receive child support, which gives them more disposable income to save or invest. …
Note to marriage promoters: these correlations still do NOT make marriage an ethical or effective anti-poverty strategy.
Book Review: Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life—from LBJ to Obama by James T. Patterson
BY EMMA ROSENBERG
Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life—from LBJ to Obama is a verbose title with a revealing indication of what is to come. James T. Patterson, a Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University, offers a rigorous 288 page account of the Moynihan Report and its aftermath. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a politician-academic and an Assistant Secretary of Labor, wrote a report in March 1965 summarizing the poor conditions of the black community in America. The Moynihan Report, officially titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” highlights the destructive forces of unemployment and poverty for black Americans. Moynihan emphasizes the deterioration of black family life and the retarding nature of the matriarchal structure. Moynihan criticizes the structure of the welfare system, which preferentially assists families with absentee fathers and therefore encourages broken homes. Moynihan’s groundbreaking discovery, which Patterson fondly refers to as ‘Moynihan’s Scissors’, details the puzzling correlation between the fall of unemployment rate and the rise in the number of new welfare cases. In other words, a growth in the economy does not necessarily decrease poverty. At the center of Moynihan’s findings is the detrimental rise of non-martial births, a trend that he claims will push the black community further into poverty and create a “tangle of pathologies.” Patterson emphasizes that the report “was diagnostic, not prescriptive,” merely outlining the societal issues in the hopes of turning the heads of government officials and directing the political agenda. In June, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson relied on the report for his commencement address at Howard University, in which he spoke the famous line “freedom is not enough.” While the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act granted equality as a right, Johnson called for equality as a result.
Unfortunately, the United States did not reach Johnson’s goals for racial equality. Patterson largely connects this failure to the accidental leak of the report to the press and the “tortuous trail of misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and destructive controversies” that followed. With utmost craft, Patterson interweaves the racial, political, cultural, and social issues and events that contributed to the creation of the report, its unfavorable reception, and the present-day repercussions. His sweeping collection of academic and media sources, from W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X, to Bill Cosby, provides a much-needed chronicle of a crucial document in civil rights history and a scrupulous survey of black family life in America from the 1960’s to the present. His depiction of black family life, while wide in scope, feels light in weight, merely serving as a backdrop for his defense of the Moynihan Report. Patterson’s ultimate (and limited) goal is to lament the misinterpretation of the report and prove its prophetic nature, especially in regards to the dangerous rise in out-of-wedlock births and overall deterioration of traditional black family life. At the time of the report, 23.6 percent of black births were out of wedlock; by 1984, 60 percent. In 2008, the rate reached 72.3%, with the white out-of-wedlock birthrate at 28.6%. Any innovative findings, however, are watered down by a profusion of tedious statistics strung together by poorly constructed sentences. Patterson is ambitious in tackling such a large time span, but does so at the expense of the reader’s interest, making the book a mind-numbing read.
Surprisingly, Patterson does not dedicate much space to the report itself, leaving the reader in suspense for nearly 50 pages, but does provide ample and unnecessary ink on the life of Patrick Moynihan. The structure of the book may feel perplexing, but Patterson’s point is clear; the Moynihan Report deserves more attention than it was previously given and is still relevant today given the U.S. government’s continual failure in dealing with the growing ills of the black lower class. However, Patterson’s full-fledged endorsement of the 1965 report feels uncomfortably outdated for the present times, given the evolving notion of family structure in American society. His brief smattering of modern-day references–the cultural influence of the Cosby Show, the threat of hip-hop culture, and the presence of sexually-transmitted diseases—are intriguing at best, yet together build a sparse representation of the current times. Freedom Is Not Enough is a substantial and benign read in understanding “the story of a great missed opportunity in American history”, but the reader is left to wonder, what now?
Emma Rosenberg is a senior at Barnard College-Columbia University studying English Literature and Religious Studies.
This week, AtMP sent the Senate Finance Committee a petition calling for the end of federally-funded marriage promotion, along with detailed analysis and recommendations on the use of anti-poverty funds for marriage and fatherhood programs. AtMP’s statement describes the differences between marriage promotion, relationship education, and fatherhood programs. We ask Congress to use the evidence it has received to set performance standards for President Obama’s proposed $500 million Fatherhood, Marriage and Families Innovation Fund.
In contrast to President Bush’s $750 million program, we want the new Fund to
- serve only low-income people;
- not discriminate on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation, nor stigmatize unmarried
- make relationship education inclusive of all relationships;
- develop standards, educational requirements and/or an accreditation system for relationship
- let service providers work from their strengths rather than pursue fads;
- help men and women be great parents and partners, not husbands and wives;
- not confuse parenting with gender role-modeling; and
- gather and publish evaluation results quickly.
Finally, we suggest directions for re-envisioning federal anti-poverty efforts, with the ultimate goal of eliminating poverty. All people, including people in poverty, should be legally and economically free to choose whether and when to marry or form other healthy relationships.
Read the entire testimony and see the petition signatories here.
Learn more about AtMP’s decade of research and advocacy on welfare-funded marriage promotion here.
Want to receive special alerts about this work? Be sure to check the box for “marriage promotion” when you sign up here.
In 2006, New York City was rocked by the terrible death of Sean Bell. Unfortunately, the shooting of Sean Bell was not a rare or unique event. Some quick exploration finds that NYC police fatally shot an average of 24 people per year from 1990 through 2000, that, “in 77% of the incidents where officers fired their weapons at civilians between 1999 and 2006, the officers were the only ones shooting, with officers often shooting at unarmed civilians,” and that “during 1996 and 1997, 90.5% of civilian shooting targets were black and Latino.” Horribly, the death of unarmed black and Latino men in a hail of police bullets in NYC happens much too often, yet rarely becomes a huge news story.
One thing that made Sean Bell’s death huge news was the fact that it occurred on the eve of his wedding. The planned wedding separated Mr. Bell from potential stereotypes, giving the media a guaranteed attention-getter. Mr. Bell’s death is far from the only one to be treated differently because of proximity to a wedding. Just this morning I heard a radio report about a terrible plane crash in Pakistan: all 152 people aboard were killed; the only ones described in any detail were two Americans and a Pakistani couple who had just celebrated their wedding.
This is not to question that each of these deaths is tragic, but to point out that the media often relies on matrimania to make some violent, untimely deaths seem more terrible than others.
The loss of Sean Bell is in our minds again today, because NYC is paying his family $7 million to settle their lawsuit for “wrongful death, negligence, assault and civil rights violations.” Technically speaking, none of the settlement will go to Nicole Bell, whom Mr. Bell was about to marry after a long-term unmarried partnership during which they bore and co-raised two children. “The money will go to her two children with Mr. Bell, Jada, 7, and Jordyn, 4; she will not receive a share because she was not married to Mr. Bell (she took his name legally after his death).”
Since Ms. Bell was involved in negotiating the settlement, I’m willing to assume that she’s OK with the way it works. But what if they hadn’t had children? What if they had been planning to adopt? What if they were all much older and the children were independent adults? What happens to unmarried survivors whose partners die wrongful deaths?
Professor Nancy Polikoff has documented that few states allow any compensation to unmarried survivors, and New York State has consistently denied them – see her book Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, page 88-89. Matrimania is not just an annoying media habit. Reliance on marital status in wrongful death cases, as in so many other legal and economic policies, can double the pain of a loss and create permanent hardships for people whose caring, interdependent relationships don’t count.