Childhood Poverty's Low-Hanging Fruit

What if there was a proven way to instantly and dramatically reduce the statistic of 1-in-5 American children now living under the federal poverty line, as reported in the September 2010 U.S. Census figures?
Better still, what if this economic remedy cost taxpayers zero dollars and simultaneously curbed generational poverty to boot?
Surely people of all ideological stripes could agree that such “low-hanging fruit” ought be plucked for the betterment of those who have little say in their economic flourishing — children.
Such a solution exists. It’s called marriage. Yet unfortunately for the 20 percent of all children living in poverty, not all pundits and politicians are focused on promoting this time-tested economic “stimulus” plan.
Indeed, the Obama economy has been brutal on children. For those under 18, the poverty rate jumped from 19  percent in 2008 to 20.7 percent in 2009.  For those 18 to 64, the rate went from 11.7 percent in 2008 to 12.9 percent in 2009.
Here’s what we know: The two-parent family is the best “anti-poverty program” ever conceived. Why? Well, for the painfully obvious reason that two incomes are twice as much as one.
And yet, nearly 40 percent of all children in America are born out-of-wedlock. Minority children are especially affected by the economic realities of unwed motherhood. Whereas 28 percent of white women have their babies out-of-wedlock, that figure for Latino American and African-American children is 51 percent and 72 percent respectively.
The harsh reality behind these numbers can be seen in the mountain of social science research that shows the jaw-dropping and devastating social, education, health, and criminal effects that fatherlessness has on children.
But in purely economic terms, one beaming ray of hope exists for those striving to drastically reduce childhood poverty in America. In fact, as Juan Williams pointed out in his powerful book, “Enough,” there exists a formula that is so effective at combating poverty that researchers have created something akin to a “magic pill” for escaping poverty’s grasp. The formula goes like this: graduate high school, get and keep a job, get married after finishing school and getting a job, and then, after age 21, begin creating your family. The poverty rate for any black man or woman who follows that formula is 5.8 percent. For whites it’s slightly less effective (7.8 percent).

This is a hopeful and exciting statistic.
Better still, these economic benefits to children hold even when divorce occurs.  Why?  Because marriage is a legally binding contract that, to be broken, requires court intervention. That means higher rates of child support enforcement than for children born out-of-wedlock, which typically adds costly legal layers that include establishing paternity.
And yet, sadly, those on the left who champion reducing childhood poverty seldom acknowledge the powerful poverty-fighting effects marriage brings. Take, for example, Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s cry for greater taxpayer funded anti-poverty programs with nary a mention of boosting marriage rates.
Liberal commentators like to point out that poverty rates have increased across all types of families. That’s true. But the devil is in the details. Yes, for married-couple families the poverty rate rose from 5.5 percent in 2008 to 5.8 percent in 2009. But that baseline poverty rate pales in comparison to the rate for female-householder-with-no-husband-present families, which in 2009 stood at 29.9 percent, up from 28.7 percent in 2008.
To be sure, there are no economic guarantees in life. Furthermore, many Americans continue to suffer economically, trapped as they are in grip of President Obama’s failed economic policies. Still, graduation, a job and marriage provide strong statistical inoculation against one’s child growing up in poverty.
Why don’t we start combating childhood poverty by first plucking the low-hanging fruit?