Renewing Marriage in America

by W. Bradford Wilcox

It’s good to hear President Obama mention the “m” word — marriage — in the State of the Union address tonight. He has rarely talked about marriage in his presidency, except to voice his support for same-sex marriage.

Tonight, he called for an end to the financial penalties often facing low-income couples who marry. Specifically, Obama said, “we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples.”

Concretely, this could be done in two ways:

1. Determining which welfare programs — such as food stamps or housing aid — penalize marriage for poor and working-class couples and eliminating those penalties. 

2. Using a marriage-penalty calculator (like this one from the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution) and simply issuing low-income couples a check equal to the penalty they incur from marrying.

I favor the latter approach. It’s simple and sends a strong message that the government will no longer penalize marriage for low-income couples in America.

This is important because, as I have shown elsewhere, marriage is weakest today in the communities that can least afford weak families: our nation’s poor and working-class communities.  

— W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project, is the author of “When Marriage Disappears.”

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