Those excusing the single-motherhood status quo say that there are just no men for low-income mothers to marry. According to a Princeton University survey, however, roughly half of mothers of out-of-wedlock kids are cohabiting with the father at birth. The relationships are there; they just don't last. Another excuse is that the men involved don't make enough money to support the mothers. But fathers of children born out of wedlock make, on average, $17,000 a year. According to Rector, if they were to marry the mothers of their children, 75 percent of the mothers would be lifted out of poverty. In roughly two-thirds of the cases, the mothers would be lifted out of poverty without even having to work themselves.
Nor is the problem that marriage is held in low esteem. "Marriage is already sold; we don't need to sell it," says Horn. Rector reports that single mothers value marriage. It's just that they consider it a near-utopian state to be achieved in some far-off future when they have made it into the middle class. What they don't realize is that marriage is their ticket into the middle class.
Why not help those young couples -- on a voluntary basis, of course -- interested in getting this ticket? Private-sector programs that teach couples better relationship skills have repeatedly been shown to encourage healthy, sustained marriages. Most of these programs have been tried with middle-class couples, but they would almost certainly work with low-income couples -- the target of the Bush proposal -- as well.
"What is astounding to me," says Horn, "is that this isn't already being done, because it's so logical." Unfortunately, logic hasn't been the guide to American social policy since the 1960s. Or the most effective anti-child poverty program ever would never have been abandoned.