On April 15th a major new study was released documenting the enormous economic cost in America caused by the breakdown of families. The study is sponsored by the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, the Georgia Family Council and Families Northwest. Thor Tolo took the occasion to speak with the President of Families Northwest Jeff Kemp.
Thor Tolo: This is a stunning study: [taxpayers have spent] over a trillion dollars in the last decade for unwed child bearing and divorce. This is far more sobering than I think even the experts had imagined, is it not?
Jeff Kemp: Yes, it is. We didn’t do the study just to be informed about how much money it’s costing every taxpayer in America. We did it to bring attention to something that should have our attention already. And that is that kids’ lives are being damaged, men’s and women’s lives are being damaged and the fabric of our culture is being damaged. We’re losing the commitment to prepare for marriages, commit to marriages, honor it culturally and prevent the hardship of divorce and kids being born out of wedlock.
When we talk about … more money in the last five years than has been spent on the Iraq war, it is something that we hope gains a lot of attention, but also drives compassion to change the future.
Tolo: As President of Families Northwest you have actually taken it a step or two further. You have said that this crisis is also hazardous to our health … This study is breathtaking in its exhaustive research.
Kemp: It is huge. It’s the first time the economic impact of family fragmentation has ever been assessed and here’s what happened: Families Northwest joined three other groups, The Institute for American Values primarily among them. They did the academic research and tested how much poverty is caused by divorce and how much poverty is caused by children being born and raised without their married parents. Once they assessed that poverty, they looked at the programs that government operates to try to alleviate the symptoms of that poverty as well as the tax revenue from these families and kids. This is a very, very cautious and low estimate of the expenses—they could be much higher.
In Washington State taxpayers spend $711, 000,000 every year [as a result of fragmented families]. We could employ 15,000 public school teachers for the price of what it is costing us in fragmenting families year after year after year.
Tolo: Now with the spotlight shinning brightly on the problem … where do we go from here—what’s the next step?
Kemp: The next step is the national dialogue among community leaders, government leaders, media leaders, church and education leaders, business leaders, policy makers—all of us need to ask what things are working to strengthen marriage so that your kids don’t fall into poverty.
The discussion has barely begun; there are some wonderful programs. We know that marriage education and preparation lowers the risk of divorce. We know that couples who avoid cohabitation lower their risk of divorce by 42 percent … Marriages can be saved if couples plug into training skills resources, conferences and excellent marriage based counseling.
Tolo: Jeff, why should government care about marriage? It seems to be something (and you’ll forgive the political infusion here), but it seems like a liberal idea. However, the actual back-bone of the plan couldn’t be more conservative in nature. You talk about social conservatism: this is about preserving traditional marriage as God designed it and keeping the bearing of children within a marriage.
Kemp: This concern covers the political spectrum. I think that everyone in America … does care for children. If we face the truth then we know that the only way to improve outcomes for so many children living without their mom and dad … is to strengthen marriage as a life-long monogamous and faithful relationship.
If we speak authentically and give people the tools and training—in a culture that doesn’t do it in the media or often enough in our family of origin—then we can turn this tide around. We must because it is just not acceptable to let this continue.