CNN has an odd social-sciencey rebuttal
to the claim, made often by those on the political right, that people can avoid poverty by doing three things: graduating from high school, getting married before having children, and getting a job. First, the claim always purports that these behaviors are, if not coequal, valuable in varied combination. No one makes the claim that marriage is a silver bullet. Still, that is the assumption CNN makes and gives us one Stephanie Coontz to trash marriage.
As one would expect from CNN, the argument is weak and the economics are particularly bad. The author has to shoot around the edges of the claim because you will rarely find an aspect of social science with such decisive empirical weight behind it. Statistically, people who do these three things avoid poverty to a vastly greater degree than those who don't. It's not really disputable, which is why perhaps Ms. Coontz resorts to some pretty flimsy logic and spends most of the article advocating the policy playbook straight out of central casting - living wages, government spending, district leveling, even sex ed - rather than talking about her central claim
First, as mentioned, the author sets up the straw man marriage is a silver bullet, which is easily shot down. The assumption that marriage cures poverty is a daft one and no one makes it. You don't say "I do" and magically emerge from poverty. Marriage is important like the other two factors and helps people emerge from poverty because it instills habits and mindsets that are consistent with prospering. Coontz goes off on some tangents about not enough men to marry because too many are in prison, but the real bad economics are front and center.
Seriously? Have any of these pundits and politicians talked to any people who have lost their jobs in the past 15 years?
I don't know who the pundits are talking to, but clearly Coontz is isn't talking or studying such people either. Marriage is precisely
the best situation to ameliorate a job loss situation. First, you have the earning power of the spouse to act as a buffer. Secondly, people typically derive support in hard times from extended family. Being married usually means any individual has double the support resources available to them to cope with temporary or more than temporary job loss. This is the basic economics of the family structure the world over and throughout time.
Then there are some hoary chestnuts of the left, like this.
a majority of American families have seen their real wages stagnate or
decline over the past 30 years, even as they increased their involvement
in paid labor.
Let's repeat this again for the economics-challenged - wages do not equal compensation. Wages may not have gone up, but total compensation has gone up, handily in fact. When you work you get take home pay, benefits such as healthcare coverage or retirement contributions, paid time off, and maybe job training. Add up all the things of value you get for working (including unnoticed things like safer working conditions) and workers are doing better all the time. Sure it would be nice to have more take home pay, but we as a society have enacted policies to deemphasize cash compensation. We could easily go the other way with better tax policy but we don't.
Then there are some plain old head-scratchers, which I associate with being in the academic bubble for too long.
But nonmarriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity
rather than a cause.
Huh? Candidates for marriage are generally young and starting out in life. This means relative poverty by definition. Unemployed or low wage earning young adults shun marriage? Really? Poppycock. Young adults seek
marriage to alleviate or provide a buffer to these situations. Millions of young adults seek and find spouses everyday and have for decades despite relatively poverty to society at large. (Or at least they used to. Don't make a hash of economic logic just because a new generation of youth have more self-centered priorities.)
And here is a fun rhetorical trick.
Almost 36% of American's impoverished children -- 5.9 million kids --
live with married parents. If we include low-income families -- people
who are just one missed pay check, one illness or one divorce away from
poverty -- the figure rises to nearly 50%.
I am highly skeptical of that number, but even so, the 36% means that 64% live with non-married parents! So after hiding a big number that refutes her argument with a small number that seems to be consistent with what she's saying, Coontz invites you speculate that number into a theoretically higher number - they're not poor, but they could be poor!
There is one point that Coontz gets exactly right.
Unemployment, low wages and poverty discourage
family formation and erode family stability, making it less likely that
individuals will marry in the first place and more likely that their
marriages will dissolve.
Some people just can't get any traction and remain mired in unemployment and low wage jobs. So yes, if you can't get it together in that respect you're probably not going to be successful in marriage either.
But for most people, getting married, and being committed to the structure that it creates, sets the conditions for prospering and avoiding poverty.