Archive for the ‘economics & poverty’ Category
Thanks to Jonathan for sending me the great news that Google will cover the extra tax costs for employees with same-sex partners whose domestic partner benefits coverage is treated as taxable income (unlike spousal benefits). It is infuriating that Google would level the playing field only for same-sex partners, leaving different-sex partners to pay more or “just get married.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and here is (a corrected version of) what I posted as a comment on the New York Times blog about the story.
As reported by HRC, Google extends benefits to the domestic partners of both same- and different-sex employees (as do 95% of companies that offer DP benefits).
According the US Census Bureau, there are three times as many different-sex unmarried partner households in the San Francisco – Oakland – Fremont Metro Area workforce than same-sex ones. Nationwide, different-sex partners comprise 88.6% of the 6.15 million households headed by cohabiting couples. In a 2006 study, Badgett of the Williams Institute (who is quoted in the main article) wrote that “people with different-sex partners who have domestic partner coverage [currently] outnumber the same-sex partners with domestic partner coverage by a nine to one margin” and that, if all US employers offered DP benefits, “out of every thousand employees, on average only one to four would sign up a same-sex partner, and another 13–21 would sign up a different-sex partner.”
This is not a “gay” issue, it is a public health and social justice issue. Again quoting Badgett, “Gay men and lesbians in couples are more likely to be uninsured than are married heterosexuals, and people with unmarried different-sex partners are the least likely to be insured.” In addition, different-sex partners are also more likely to be people of color, and to have lower incomes, than married or same-sex couples. (More on unmarried people’s access to health care.)
What a company as rich as Google should do is convert its entire family benefits structure to a plus-one model, in which every employee has an equal right to extend benefits to her/his economic dependents, children up to age 26 (per new federal law) plus one non-dependent adult regardless of relationship type.
Google’s new subsidy policy is a ridiculously wrong-headed move that will surely antagonize it’s workforce and should hurt its global reputation.
My inner geek is having a great week (at the expense of my less robust inner fundraiser – please help me restore psychic harmony by making an easy, secure, tax-deductible donation to support this work)!
New data on the impact of Massachusetts’ 2006 health reform law demonstrates the link between women’s marital status and health coverage:
… roughly 60,000 women aged 18 to 64 were uninsured in fall 2009. Moreover, one in every five women reported problems obtaining care or paying for the care they needed. … The women who were uninsured … were disproportionately young (ages 18 to 25), Hispanic, and single.
My quick crunching of the new data on MA women produced some eye-opening numbers:
- for every 100 women who are living with their unmarried partners and who have health insurance, there are 150 uninsured cohabiting women;
- for every 100 ever-single women with health insurance, there are 223 uninsured ever-single women;
- for every 100 divorced, separated, or widowed women who have all their health care needs taken care of, there are 135 divorced, separated, or widowed women with some unmet need for health care;
- for every 100 cohabiting women who had no trouble finding a doctor, there are 137 cohabiting women who are having difficulty finding a doctor (or finding one who accepts their insurance or new patients). Thanks, Rachel, for checking my math!
This report reaffirms findings about both men and women which were released by the same research team late last year. Of course, coverage and access differentials correlate to numerous variables, but the difference between married and unmarried MA residents’ health care is so big that it keeps showing up in the reports’ opening lines.
I was bothered by the 2009 report’s implication that young single men preferred to be uninsured, so I checked in with Tom, an AtMP member who is an MD-MPH in Boston. He wisely said “I suspect that “never married’ is the least of the reasons that young men choose not to be insured. Un/underemployment, poverty, and feeling invulnerable are much more important reasons. “Never Married” most likely popped out of the data analysis software (which) will correlate everything unless you tell it not to.”
MA’s health reform legislation was an important model for national health reform, so everyone is watching MA’s results because they may predict what we’ll see nationwide. So far, it looks like the failure to create a single-payer system or to help everyone get equal access to coverage regardless of martial status will recreate the inequality we’ve been living with for years: unmarried people are more likely to lack access to affordable health care.
That stinks, not only because it’s unjust but also because it could fuel the next perennial wildfire of sloppy media reports claiming that ‘marriage makes you healthier.’ Luckily, a new study on people in the UK offers a big bucket of water to throw on that fire. In sum, it “finds that the effect of cohabitation on health is not statistically different from the effect of marriage….”
This study’s American authors tried to take into account the way peoples’ health changes over time, and to
disentangl[e] the selection effect (healthy people make better marriage partners, ceteris paribus) versus the so-called protective effect of marriage (married people are healthier because they have a spouse who can monitor their health behaviors, care for them when they are ill, and discourage them from engaging in risky behaviors, such as smoking and drinking). It is the latter effect that is of interest to economists as it represents the causal effect of marriage on health. …
The striking result is that once we control for both selection and health dynamics cohabitation and divorce are insignificantly different in their effect on health than marriage for all sub-samples. Never married is only weakly significantly worse for health and only for all women and women under age 40. … our results suggest that both males and females may gain comparable protective effects from cohabitation and the negative health effects of divorce found by some researchers may be overstated. …
Of course, don’t forget that they studied people who all enjoy equal access to the UK’s national health system – no Brit ever gets married to get health insurance! Interestingly, they found that income still affects health despite the national health system, partly because lower income people are exposed to more health hazards (low-quality food or housing, for example).
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.
When does a person become an adult? What is adulthood, and why does it matter? How have the answers to these questions changed over time, and what do the changes mean for American society? How should civic institutions respond?
These fascinating questions are the subject of Transition to Adulthood, the latest in a research series called The Future of Children published by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School (my alma mater) and the Brookings Institution. This anthology of 10 essays does not answer all those questions. In fact, it doesn’t seem to recognize that some exist; but, it does provide valuable insight into demographic trends and policy responses.
Why review it here? Because, according to one of the authors,
Becoming an adult has traditionally been understood as comprising five core transitions – leaving home, completing school, entering the workforce, getting married, and having children.
Today… only about half of Americans consider it necessary to marry or have children to be regarded as an adult.
The question begs so hard it practically jumps off the page: should marriage and parenthood still be understood as markers of adulthood by researchers and policy makers? Amazingly, none of the 19 authors in this anthology seem interested in changing their traditional understanding. For example, one lists women’s tendency “to delay marriage and parenthood” as a factor that has “helped to delay and complicate the passage to adulthood.” Even the use of “transition” (singular) in the book’s title suggests the authors’ devotion to the idea of one right way to become an adult, despite the rich diversity of reality which their data describe so well.
Equally amazing, none of the authors unpack the implied moral or normative value of adulthood; no one explains why it matters. Of course, I’d rather live in a country where my fellow adults act like adults, not like children. But my common sense definition of “acting like an adult” has little to do with the “five core transitions.” A book that recommends governmental and civic action towards a goal ought to justify why that goal is good for individuals and society. Instead, the closest it comes to explaining why adulthood matters is to describe the negative
consequences of the extended transition. … [F]irst … the growing burden placed on the middle- and lower-income families who were providing their children with schooling, housing, health insurance and income well beyond the age range of 18 – 21, the traditional age of majority. … [S]econd… the unexpected strain being imposed on key social institutions.
One thing the anthology does very well is highlight the different life patterns experienced by people of different gender, race/ethnicity, economic class and immigration history. For example, it cites one study of children of immigrants who (rather than becoming a long-term burden) provide regular or even total financial support to their parents, and another study finding that children of immigrants “differed in several ways from conventional American norms of departing the parental household and setting up a separate home.”
Another question begged: whose norms are “conventional?” A different essay mentions that “youth and parents from less-advantaged families continue to favor an earlier departure from the home than do those of more advantaged means.” Furthermore, “women are typically younger than men when they leave home because they complete college earlier, form cohabiting unions earlier, and marry about two years earlier, on average, than men.” However, “young mothers who do not enter a union before bearing a child typically remain in the parental home for several years and receive financial support and child care from their parents.”
What Transition to Adulthood does best is provide heaps of fascinating data. Here are just a few highlights about marriage and its alternatives: “About half of high school seniors say that they plan to cohabit as couples before they marry. … By age 34, 7 in 10 have tied the knot. … [T]he percentages of people who have never married, and who are intentionally childless, are higher now than at any other time in American history….”
Given this nation’s obsession with marriage and parenting – and our politicians’ willingness to legislate behavior – I was especially struck by the fact that, while there are many studies of people who are relatively rich or poor, “[r]esearchers know far less about the family formation patterns of young adults who grow up in families with modest resources.” Isn’t that the majority of us? I was also glad to see recognition that “young people who can build stronger and wider connections to adults other than parents (for example, teachers and adult mentors) also end up faring better than those who do not.” (emphasis in original)
With essays on education, labor, the military, civic engagement and “vulnerable populations,” as well as the immigration and family formation sections I’ve highlighted, Transition to Adulthood offers plenty of food for thought. I do hope that its target audience of “policy makers, practitioners and the media” will dig into the rich details and give more thought to what adulthood is, how people get there, and why it matters. Otherwise, we’ll end up with more legal carrots and sticks, more media hype, and less real help to build a society where we all can thrive.
Two heartrending news articles crossed my desk this morning. Both highlight the reasons that TANF (the main federal anti-poverty program) should focus on economic assistance. They also point to the importance of healthy relationships for all people, regardless of marital status. If any federal money is going to pay for relationship education, it really must be available to people in every type of relationship.
Women’s e-News details how the recession contributed to an increase in domestic violence.
The New York Times details how evictions have a disparate impact on unmarried African-American women.
President Obama’s budget proposal offers a one-year extension and expansion of marriage programs. Few details are available yet, but we’re inclined to agree with our colleague Wendy Mink, who writes
far from a one-shot deal, this is a shot-in-the-arm to proponents of privatizing poverty reduction through patriarchal family norms. Significantly, despite economic hard times, the budget request does not include increases in cash grants to struggling families, a suspension of time limits on eligibility for assistance, an end to sanctions, or a change in rules so that more families in need of assistance can actually get it. We need to insist on changes to the structure of TANF, not the structure of families.
If you haven’t signed our TANF petition yet, now is the time!
Really glad to see the impact of marital status discrimination addressed in Race Talk. With 70% of African-American adults unmarried (compared to 45% of Whites and 49% of Latinos in the US), every law or economic policy that uses marital status has a disparate impact on the Black community. AtMP agrees wholeheartedly that
it’s time to rethink those norms and accommodate a changing society that no longer consists of a married majority. It’s unfair to reward the life choices of some and not others when all are valid realities that should be treated as such.
Though it didn’t get much major media attention, several small and so-called conservative outlets have been complaining that the health reform bills moving (or not) through Congress are unfair to married people. AtMP tracks news about “marriage penalties” for two reasons: first, we oppose and look for ways to solve all forms of marital status discrimination, even when married people are disadvantaged; second, we’ve found that most discussions of “marriage penalties” are actually smokescreens for even bigger marriage bonuses – policies that reward people for marrying and disadvantage unmarried people.
The latest news on health reform follows the latter trend. In a nutshell: the bill creates a subsidy for people who have to buy their own insurance; in some cases that subsidy would be lower for a married couple than for two identical unmarried people because the eligibility threshold for a married couple is less than twice that for a single person.
Before getting into the details, take a moment to savor the Heritage Foundation’s position on whether this is just:
Proponents of the Senate health care bill might argue that these marriage penalties would reach their full effect only in situations where neither partner had employer-provided health insurance. It is true that married couples with employer coverage would face less bias; however, this defense of the bill remains weak because discrimination against marriage remains discrimination even if it does not fully affect all married couples. Such discrimination is unacceptable even in a single instance.
If only they had written “marital status discrimination is unacceptable even in a single instance!” But no, discrimination that puts married couples above unmarried couples, families and individuals is just fine to them.
Heritage hints at one aspect of the smokescreen effect: married people with employer-based insurance often get to put their spouse on their health plan at a much lower cost than if the spouse had to buy her/his own coverage.
Further aspects of the smokescreen are revealed in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Mythbuster analysis, and the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Wonkroom analysis. Both link the subsidy calculation to the way the federal government calculates eligibility for subsidies generally: married couples are assumed to share all of their income and expenses, unmarried people are assumed not to share any at all. At AtMP, we believe this use of marital status often results in unequal treatment of people who are in equivalent situations – some married people don’t share, many unmarried people do, and few people share 100%.
In addition to this ‘equivalency’ problem, using marital status to determine subsidy eligibility can also create a justice problem. Subsidies are directed to people with low and moderate incomes. The amount of money a couple might save by sharing resources is often much less than the amount they stand to lose in subsidies if they expose their relationship by getting legally married. That’s why we hear from so many people with disabilities who can’t get married because marrying would make them ineligible for affordable health insurance. When will Heritage take up their cause?
It probably doesn’t make sense to treat all people in relationships as if they were isolated individuals. Instead, we’d like to see a new way of determining which people have combined their income and expenses to create an economic unit that should be subsidized or taxed at a different rate than an individual. We’re collecting suggestions on how to do that – please post yours as a comment!
A few days ago as I was heading into the office, my Blackberry picked up an email posting to AtMP-Talk, our interactive listserve. AtMP-TALK has been hosting important, enlightening and sometimes silly conversations among over 500 members for over a decade, but it had been pretty quiet in recent months. This posting caught my eye not only because it broke the silence, but also because of the writer’s name: Chris Gersten. “Gee, that sounds familiar” I thought as I walked up the stairs and unlocked the office door, then “nah, it couldn’t be him!” When my PC warmed up, I confirmed that yes, Chris Gersten is the chairman of the Fatherhood & Marriage Leadership Insititute, and yes, he has been lurking on our listserve since mid-September (not coincidentally, around the same time I last blogged about FAMLI). I posted his brief bio to the list and wondered what would happen next.
Chris’s initial message made several general statements about the value of marriage and government-funded marriage programs, including
[M]arriage is the critical building block for every civilization since the dawn of time. It is the institution that all the social science research tells us is best for children to be raised in. It is also very difficult for people in marriages to maintain strong relationships over the years. There is nothing wrong with society and government understanding that it is in the interest of the broader society for married couples to get help.
Of course, Chris works to secure not only government understanding, but big funding for marriage programs. AtMP opposes this use of funds, and invites the public to sign our petition.
Member responses came in quickly. Almost all were thoughtful, detailed, respectful and passionate about cherishing diversity, protecting children and supporting relationships. I’m really proud that AtMP has such wise members! Here is a brief sample of what AtMP members said:
FAMILIES are the critical building block. People need to be “built” in stable families in order to become adults who function well regardless of the living situation they choose. Adults who live alone aren’t destroying society. But children can’t be single; they need families.
What the social science research tells us is that children do best with a consistent, reliable family and adequate physical and emotional care. Married parents look good in research because the majority of consistent two-adult households are married ones. However, studies of other family types such as stable same-sex couples show that the important variable is not marriage but stability–having the same adults in the family throughout childhood. There are many advantages to having more than one
adult (particularly with more than one child) but single parents who intentionally became parents while single tend to do very well.
Several people echoed and expanded on the importance of family stability and relationship education.
I was going to ask about the nature of the help for married couples that is being funded, and why it wouldn’t be helpful for unmarried couples as well. You’ve explained that marriage education programs are really relationship education for all. Why not just call it that? Isn’t that a worthy goal?
Chris, if you replaced the word “marriage” with “loving, intimate, relationship” I might agree with a lot of what you say. However, marriage as a social/cultural/legal status has little to do with whether a relationship is loving or intimate! Programs should be aimed at improving love, communication, and intimacy in all relationships. Then the children would really benefit.
Others raised questions and theories about the evolution of marriage and its connection to poverty.
Jobs for women pay less and are less likely to provide health insurance. Day care is expensive, and women’s wages simply aren’t high enough. Marriage has been a building block of civilizations because women have been relegated out of society outside the home. … We should be working to raise people up out of poverty, and marriage will *not* create that change. Improving work environments for women, creating opportunity in impoverished neighborhoods, and putting a stop to the shaming of single parents and their children will greatly help improve outcomes for children of single parents.
Marriage was created as a mechanism by which to manage property. Our idea of “love marriage” is a recent invention. Marriage has historically been a partnership formed by families (most marriages were arranged in all cultures for centuries) for financial reasons.
Chris replied to most member responses, mentioning (but not formally citing) studies, percentages, experts and pastors, and stating “these are not just opinions. They are facts.” Our studious members were ready.
You know what, Chris? MARRIAGE CAUSES DIVORCE. There is a 100% correlation, and the causation is clear: Every divorced couple was married before divorce! Speaking more seriously … as best I can recall from my reading, child poverty and infant mortality have *decreased* significantly since 1960 (although there have been upticks recently, they’re not back up to pre-1960 levels), low birth weight is still a problem but hasn’t changed much, and child abuse is hard to measure reliably because of drastic changes in reporting standards.
Several members referred to Dr. Bella DePaulo’s careful analysis of marriage studies, and at least one contacted her offline to ask her to weigh in, which she did:
Chapter 9 of my book, SINGLED OUT, is about the children of single parents. There, I explain why Chris’s claims do not pass muster and how those studies are so widely misinterpreted. (Because Chris seems to value appeals to authority over a close reading of the original research, I’ll mention that my PhD is from Harvard, I have more than 100 academic publications to my name, and I’ve taught graduate courses in research methods for decades.) My chapter directly addresses some of the claims Chris makes, such as the one about the alleged drug abuse among the children of single parents. I explain, in detail, how particular kinds of studies are misrepresented; so if you make the same methodological mistake each time (such as confusing correlation with causality, as Rachel pointed out), it doesn’t matter if you have 50 studies or 50,000 studies – if they are flawed, they can’t be used to support your point.
I stay on top of studies that have appeared after Singled Out was published. Many of my critiques can be found in a recent collection, SINGLE WITH ATTITUDE. I’ve also posted some critiques at my Living Single blog at Psychology Today. Here are a few specifically relevant to the points about the children of single parents:
1. Children of Single Mothers: How Do They Really Fare?
2. It Takes a Single Person to Create a Village
3. TIME’s Misleading Cover Story on Marriage
- Bella DePaulo
Members were uniformly unimpressed by Chris’s responses, and after about 48 hours the email storm collapsed in a heap of fatigue and curiosity, with members asking “Why is a former Bush Administration official on this listserve?” and “Are you just bored and looking for someone to harangue?”
Tiresome as it may be, we can expect many more conversations like this in 2010, because federal funding for marriage programs is up for renewal this year. If you agree that anti-poverty funds should be dedicated to reducing poverty, and relationship education should help everyone regardless of marital status, then please sign our petition!
Recently we were tickled to discover that the Fatherhood and Marriage Leadership Institute is using the existence of our new Get Marriage Out of TANF Coalition as a threat to mobilize pro-marriage-promotion forces to defend their federal funding.
On seeing FAMLI’s dire warning, the director of a marriage counseling program sent AtMP this friendly inquiry:
Wow! You must really believe that you are promoting a good cause. One of my areas of disagreement would be that funding TANF efforts takes away from poverty projects.
Married couples often have a higher family income. Isn’t that in itself proof that poverty is diminished through promotion of healthy marriage?
Why do the two programs have to be mutually exclusive? Your choices are your choices. My choices are mine. If you want to promote your cause, why down play mine?
Here’s a fleshed-out version of the brief response I sent him:
1. Yes, we really do believe our cause is a good one. AtMP’s cause is fairness and equality for all unmarried people, societal support for all healthy relationships, and the end of marital status discrimination, singlism and couplism. Admittedly, a very big vision! There are an infinite number of ways we could work towards our vision; we pick just a handful to work on at a time, and protesting welfare-funded marriage promotion is just one of many issues we have tackled over the years. One reason this issue captures our attention is that many of AtMP’s staff and board members over the years have personal histories and values that center on social justice and anti-poverty work. So it is particularly galling to see anti-poverty funds redirected to marriage promotion.
2. In fact, the federal TANF budget (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) was not increased to fund marriage programs; rather, marriage programs took a slice out of the pie that would otherwise fund more directly targeted anti-poverty programs. Similarly, the FAMLI-led campaign to get each state to allocate 1% of state-controlled TANF funds to marriage programs does not increase the state’s TANF budget to 101% of its former size; rather, it decreases state-funded anti-poverty programs to 99% of their former size. Furthermore, federally funded marriage programs are explicitly not anti-poverty programs: they need not serve low-income people, and their effect on participants’ economic well-being barely made it into the evaluation criteria. (For detail on that, see Let Them Eat Wedding Rings pages 4 and 14.)
 The correlation of marriage with family income does not prove that marriage diminishes poverty! If that’s not obvious, read this. In fact, researchers recognize the importance of the selection effect: people with higher incomes, more education and maybe even more ambition are more likely to choose marriage and to choose to marry similarly situated people. The academic debate is about whether marrying has any significant impact on income beyond the selection effect. Even a glowingly pro-marriage-promotion literature review found that marriage increased men’s incomes by well under 10%.
 “Your choices are your choices. My choices are mine.” This could not be better said! That’s why so many Americans are dismayed that their tax dollars are being spent to tell people that one choice (marriage) is better than another.
Last week Forbes magazine ran a commentary by two Notre Dame professors about the income tax penalty faced by low-income couples who marry.
The Bush tax cuts attempted to make tax rates “marriage-neutral”; for most middle-class taxpayers, there is now, in fact, little if any difference between filing as a married couple or as unmarried singles. … [But a] single parent earning $21,000 with two children would receive an earned income credit and child tax credit of $5,460. Say that same parent is living with, but not married to, another single parent with two children who earns the same amount. Their combined income is $42,000. Unmarried and filing their taxes separately, they would receive a total of $10,920 in earned income credits and child tax credits. If they were to marry and file jointly (listing four dependent children), they would receive only $3,400 in earned income credits and child credits. So it would cost them $7,520 to be married. To make the situation worse, this “penalty” will occur every year, adding up over time to a huge amount.
AtMP believes that taxing people based on their marital status is wrong, and that it’s especially wrong to tax lower-income people more heavily than higher-income for the exact same behavior (in this case, marrying). Naturally, we’re less concerned than those professors about rising rates of cohabitation. More importantly, we’ve heard more creative solutions than the two options they propose:
If you “remove” the marriage penalty by lowering the credits for single taxpayers, you invoke the wrath of those who would say you’re “raising” taxes (by reducing their credits) on people who can least afford it. On the other hand, if you raise the credits for married taxpayers to the point where getting married offers the same tax result as being single, you’ve got a budgetary issue–where is the money to compensate for these additional credits going to come from?
In fact, we printed another professor’s more creative solutions in our newsletter last year!
Given the many forms of modern families, two policy alternatives are clearly preferable…. First, policymakers should expand the definition of family for tax purposes to include unmarried opposite- and same-sex couples, single parents, cohabiting unmarried family members, and perhaps even platonic roommates demonstrating economic interdependence. These families share the same kind of expenses, responsibilities, and liabilities as married families. There is no reason for the tax system to treat them differently. Under an expanded definition of the family unit, “marriage” penalties would become “family” penalties, and doubling tax brackets for families would benefit all multi-person households.
Second, we could abandon the family as a unit of taxation altogether and move to a system of individual filing. This approach would effectively eliminate all marriage tax penalties. As importantly—and unlike preserving the family as a unit of taxation—individual filing would eliminate the secondary-earner bias in the tax system that currently taxes the first dollar earned of the lesser-earning spouse (disproportionately women) at the higher rates associated with the last dollar earned of the primary-earning spouse.
Either approach—expanding our concept of “family” under the family tax unit or adopting as the norm the individual unit—would more effectively address the concerns of the modern American family in its various forms.