Maggie Gallagher

You would never know it, however, from the story by Nina Bernstein splashed on the front page of The New York Times. A Yale University press release reported on this good news as follows: "The slight economic gains felt by millions of single mothers -- who have moved off welfare and into low-wage jobs -- have not discernibly improved the living conditions of families or the daily lives of young children, according to a report to be released in Washington today." The New York Times gloomily reports: "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."

Should we be concerned? Yes, of course. If there are ways to deliver welfare that are more marriage-friendly, we need to know about it. It is quite possible that, by ignoring marriage altogether, the current welfare-to-work programs inadvertently discourage it. It is also possible that work programs that aid only low-income single mothers, and ignore low-income married fathers, may help destabilize poor families.

But the larger good news, impossible to disguise, is that since welfare reform, the trends in family formation have, for the first time, begun to reverse. Unwed childbearing stopped rising. Marriage rates in low-income parents rose, especially among African-Americans. Previous economic booms produced no such family turnaround. Looking (as this study does) only at single moms of preschool children who enter welfare ignores the biggest beneficiaries of welfare reform: women (and men) who because of welfare reform decided to postpone pregnancy, or to marry, or to avoid welfare altogether.

Can we make welfare more marriage-friendly? Yes. Should we try? Of course. The good news is that by highlighting the alleged bad news about marriage rates, even The New York Times is now conceding that marriage matters.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.