Archive for the ‘marriage promotion’ 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.
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.
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.
Many thanks to Jim (and to Bitsy, and Dennis, who both tried earlier) for getting me to finally read Lily Kahng’s paper on “eliminating marriage as a basis for preferential treatment under the tax law.” What a pleasant surprise to discover that she references AtMP’s advocacy on income taxes, as well as Jim’s extensive research and analysis (marriagePenalty.xls, best accessed here). Of course, we agree completely with Kahng’s conclusion: “The joint return is unsupportable and should be abolished.”
Quoting (with permission) Jim’s post to AtMP-Talk, our email listserv:
all my work, and all AtMP’s work for that matter, compares two unmarried people vs. a married couple, i.e. ALWAYS TWO people compared to TWO people. I believe comparing the tax burden of one person to that of two people is an apple vs. oranges comparison. But I do strongly agree with her that the plight of the uncoupled single (someone who doesn’t have someone else to collaborate with on splitting credits and deductions and even income to minimize taxes) is being left out of practically all studies and discussion of the marriage bonus/penalty issue.
For those who hate numbers and taxes, Kahng’s paper is about much more than that – she surveys attitudes to singles, all kinds of advocacy and alternatives to married groups, discrimination (other than taxes), and other sociology of singles topics. So you can skip over the tax stuff if you want and enjoy the sociology stuff.
For example, here are Kahng’s closing words:
Moving beyond the tax system, recognizing the value of singleness can help us interrogate and critique the role of government and citizens in promoting and supporting marriage. For example, the same-sex marriage debate might be informed by considerations of whether the legal, economic, and social privileges of marriage ought to be expanded further, or rather eliminated entirely. Similarly, we might further question the role of the government in promoting marriage as a solution to poverty, especially for African American women. Instead, marriage could come to be viewed as one among many alternatives. (link added)
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!
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!