Marriage offers important social and economic benefits. Well-designed public policies could play a constructive role in helping couples develop the skills needed to develop healthy, sustainable relationships with each other and their children. It does not follow, however, that marriage promotion should be a significant component of anti-poverty policy. The current pro-marriage agenda in anti-poverty policy is misguided for the following reasons: (1) nonmarriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity rather than the other way around; (2) the quality and stability of marriages matters; (3) two-parent families are not immune from the economic stresses that put children at risk; and (4) single parenthood does not inevitably lead to poverty. Given the pressing need for improvements in basic social safety net programs and the threat of rising unemployment, it is unconscionable to reallocate already-inadequate Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to policies designed to promote marriage or provide a "marriage bonus." Well-designed programs to help individuals develop and improve family relationships should not be targeted to the poor. Public policies should not penalize marriage; neither should they provide economic bonuses or financial incentives for individuals to marry, especially at the cost of lowering resources available to children living with single mothers. (Author abstract)
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Marriage, Poverty, and Public Policy: A Discussion Paper from the Council on Contemporary Families.