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Marriage and welfare reform

The Washington Times
June 9, 2002

Marriage and welfare reform
House Editorial

The timing of the latest welfare-reform/marriage research - presented on
Monday's front page of the New York Times, "Strict Limits on Welfare
Benefits Discourage Marriage, Studies Say" - would appear to be quite
beneficial for the New York Times and other liberal institutions and
advocates who believe that, when it comes to welfare recipients, less work
is preferable to more. The paper and the vast majority of Democrats oppose
the increased work requirements in the welfare-reform reauthorization
legislation that the House of Representatives recently passed.
Specifically, the House bill would require states to raise the percentage
of working welfare recipients from 50 percent to 70 percent; and it would
increase the time recipients must spend on work-related activity to 40
hours, including up to 16 hours for training, drug-rehab or schooling.

The June 3 story in the Times cited studies in Connecticut and Iowa
showing that the work requirements imposed by the 1996 welfare-reform law
appeared to "significantly reduce the chances that a single mother will
wed." The recent research suggested that women whose incomes increased as
they moved from welfare to employment became less willing to accept the
wrong man as a marriage partner. The increased work effort also apparently
made the women too tired to pursue and nourish a relationship, according
to the authors of the studies.

"[N]either critics nor champions of the nation's 1996 welfare overhaul
contemplated the possibility that replacing welfare with work would
discourage marriage," the Times observed. Maybe so. But the issue is
hardly settled by these two studies. Indeed, in further noting that
"policy makers disagreed in the past about whether old-style welfare was
encouraging out-of-wedlock births," the Times even refuses to concede the
self-evident. That is the irrefutable connection between the "War on
Poverty's" dramatic increases in means-tested welfare-style payments to
single mothers and the subsequent explosion of births to unmarried women.
This illegitimacy rate, as it was universally known in less politically
correct times, more than quadrupled in three decades, rising from less
than 8 percent of all births in 1965 to more than 32 percent 30 years later.

Compared to the indisputable causal connection between simultaneously
soaring welfare payments and illegitimacy, the latest research, which
purports to find a relationship between welfare work requirements and a
relative decline in marriage among those so affected, rests on some weak
evidence. This is due to the fact that state welfare bureaucrats, in
implementing the 1996 reform law, have essentially ignored two explicitly
stated goals of the legislation - the reduction of illegitimacy and an
increase in marriage. As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has
found, "Overall, the government spends $1,000 subsidizing single parents
for every $1 it spends trying to reduce illegitimacy and increase marriage."

From the federal government's cumulative $100 billion welfare block grant
dispensed to the states since 1996, a mere $11 million has been allocated
to reduce illegitimacy and promote marriage. This year's reauthorization
includes requirements that the active pursuit of these important goals
finally be undertaken. In the mean time, isn't it good news that the New
York Times seems to recognize the benefits of marriage?

Copyright 2002 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Washington Times Home:


The New York Times
June 3, 2002

Strict Limits on Welfare Benefits Discourage Marriage, Studies Say

For years, work and marriage have been seen as twin pillars of welfare
reform. But just as President Bush is seeking welfare legislation with
more stringent work requirements and more support for marriage, an
unexpected contradiction is emerging. New research findings in two states
show that the stricter work requirements of contemporary welfare policy
significantly reduce the chances that a single mother will wed.

Though policy makers disagreed in the past about whether old-style welfare
was encouraging out-of-wedlock births, neither critics nor champions of
the nation's 1996 welfare overhaul contemplated the possibility that
replacing welfare with work would discourage marriage. But that is what
researchers have found in separate, rigorous studies of welfare programs
in Connecticut and Iowa.

Researchers suggest two main reasons. Like middle-class married women
whose divorce rates spiked when jobs and rising wages made them more
self-reliant, some women who moved from welfare to work may have become
less willing to settle for the wrong man, they say. At the same time,
strict work requirements and low wages may have left some mothers with
less time, energy and income to attract a partner or nourish a relationship.

"Tough love, less romance," summarized Bruce Fuller, a social scientist at
the University of California and an author of the Connecticut study. He
privately discussed similar findings with Thomas M. Fraker, the author of
the unpublished Iowa evaluation, which is awaiting state approval. "If
tough-love work policies suppressed marriage at this magnitude nationwide,
just under a quarter-million women would not be getting married in any one
year," Professor Fuller said.

But Wade F. Horn, the Bush administration official who oversees the
welfare program, said on Friday, "We see nothing inconsistent between what
we're trying to accomplish and results of the Connecticut study and others."

Referring to the administration's proposal to spend $300 million on
demonstration projects like premarital counseling and pro-marriage
education campaigns, he added: "What those two studies say to me is, if
you up the work requirement and do nothing to support healthy marriages,
you get less healthy marriage. Now let's see if you provide supports for
healthy marriages, you get more healthy marriage."

The effect of changes in welfare on marriage surfaced first in an
evaluation of preschool children whose mothers were randomly assigned to
Connecticut's program, known as Jobs First. Researchers at the University
of California, Columbia, Yale and Stanford were startled to discover that
three years later, only 7 percent of the mothers who had gone through Jobs
First were married and living with a spouse, compared with 15 percent of
those randomly assigned to receive traditional welfare grants under the
old program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Among women in the
two groups with stronger employment histories, the gap was even greater:
6 percent versus 18 percent.

Now, researchers say, the same wedding gap has shown up in Iowa, in the
results of a much larger welfare evaluation. It was conducted by
Mathematica, a research corporation, under a state contract that forbids
public release of the findings without approval by state officials. At the
close of the study, which followed 4,000 women for as long as six years,
32 percent of the old-style welfare group were married, but only 24
percent of the welfare applicants assigned to Iowa's new program, a mix of
work requirements, sanctions and incentives typical of many states' new
welfare programs.

Child-bearing was not affected in either study. In both, the majority of
women in the control groups - those in the traditional programs - also
left welfare for jobs during the economic boom of the 1990's, but
welfare-to-work programs raised the rate of employment for the others, by
margins of 6 to 11 percent. Yet in Iowa, more work and less marriage added
up to less money. When contributions from other household members were
counted, the welfare-to-work mothers averaged $300 less each month than
mothers assigned to traditional welfare.

In interviews, women who were subjects of the Connecticut study echoed
theories about new self-reliance and greater stress, even as they
described more complicated reasons for broken engagements and failed

"I enjoyed my independence," said Jennifer Clark, 26, a mother of two in
North Haven, Conn., explaining why she would not push to marry the father
of her second child, Hannah, 1. Ms. Clark said she had successfully
studied and worked, and supported her older daughter, Erica, now 6, partly
through a welfare grant she collected under the old rules while earning a
bookkeeping degree that tripled her wages, to $15 an hour.

But Ms. Clark soon made it clear that staying single was not really her
choice. She and her former boyfriend, a chef, lived together for three
years before she became pregnant with Hannah. Serious medical problems
forced her to quit her job, she said, and Hannah's father was unwilling or
unable to shoulder the added economic burden. As she tells it, he left,
refused her suggestions that they get counseling, and became involved with
another woman.

"I'm not even interested in dating right now," Ms. Clark added, cheerfully
describing a demanding schedule and the 21-month limit on her public
assistance under the Jobs First program. She and the children are living
with her parents as she tries to find a job, attend mandatory
welfare-to-work classes, and continue volunteering with Erica's school and
a Girl Scout troop.

The new findings might seem inconsistent with an earlier study that found
a small decline in the proportion of low-income children living in
one-parent households without other adults, and another that found a
two-percentage-point increase in marriage among 2,000 low-income women
in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio. But those studies did not focus on
welfare applicants, their authors noted. Unlike the Connecticut and Iowa
evaluations, they were not set up to separate the impact of welfare policy
from the strong economy and other factors. And the results are quite
compatible, said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns
Hopkins University and an author of the three-city study.

Women in his sample who had left the welfare rolls divided into two very
different groups, he said: "those who are doing better, and those who are
now doing much worse - because they have neither income from welfare or
from work." Women in the first group have become more desirable as
marriage partners, Professor Cherlin said, but also feel less necessity to
be married. Women in the second group may be more eager to share the cost
of housing with other adults, but they are less attractive on the marriage

"You can't overestimate the importance of economics in why poor people get
married," he added. "It's not that romance is unimportant to low-income
men and women, it's that it has to be secondary to having a sufficient income."

Women from the Connecticut study spoke of both the potential benefits of
marriage and its pitfalls.

"Are they going to give discounts on divorces when they promote marriage?"
asked Nicole Carvell, 30, of Coventry, Conn. She said she fled an abusive
husband when their daughter was an infant and her son about 5, and was
"floored" when the first divorce lawyer she called wanted a $2,500
retainer. Assigned to Jobs First when she applied for aid, she got by on a
mix of public assistance and part-time wages of $9.50 an hour in the same
bank job she has held since she was 19.

She finally found a lawyer willing to accept installments of $30 a month,
she said, but by the time her husband was ordered to pay $94.50 a week in
child support, he was in prison. When her aid ended, she increased her
hours at the bank and gave up her dream to study social work at college.

Now, she said, she is happily engaged to a man with "a swell job" who is
the father of her third child, a 2-year-old boy. But he pays steep child
support for a son of his own, she said, adding, "We don't have a set date,
only because of money."

Stacey Whitly, 30, of New Haven, another Jobs First subject and a mother
of six, said the father of her youngest child is no longer a good marriage
prospect since he lost his job digging ditches. But she, too, was engaged
at one time, to a carpenter who is the father of her 8-year-old twins.
Ms. Whitly said their relationship foundered when she temporarily moved to
North Carolina to escape shootings in her neighborhood. The carpenter,
who pays no child support, is now married to another woman.

Money in the Bush proposal could be used to offer financial incentives to
poor couples who wed, Mr. Horn said, but only as part of a state program
to foster healthy marriages. "If what's happening is that women are
becoming more economically independent and shedding abusive boyfriends,
that's a good thing," he said. "The president's proposal is not about
moving marriage rates."

E. Mavis Hetherington, an emeritus professor of psychology at the
University of Virginia whose new book "For Better or for Worse: Divorce
Reconsidered" (W. W. Norton) draws on her three-decade-long study of
couples, said the need was for "hard-nosed research to find a program that
works, and is not based on religious beliefs or moral beliefs or political

Very positive results were reported from a pilot welfare project in
Minnesota in 2000, she noted, including a 40 percent increase in marriages
among parents who had been living together and a 18 percent decline in
domestic violence. But by the time the results of that pilot were known,
it had been replaced by a far less generous statewide program that lowered
income eligibility, decreased training and incentives, stiffened sanctions
and set time limits.

Increasing federal work requirements for mothers already short of good
child care will be counterproductive, she said. "Welfare reform where
people are worse off and they're under more stress - how's that going to
help you be more secure in your relationships?"

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
NYTimes Home:
Related articles/websites:

Rep. Mink Introduces Fixes to 1996 Welfare Law
by Caroline Polk -- WEnews, 23 Oct 01

TANF Reauthorization

Heritage Foundation on Welfare and Marriage

NDOL: After Welfare: A Blueprint for the Next Wave of Reform


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