Rubio, Marriage, and Work

by W. Bradford Wilcox

In an encouraging sign of growing Republican interest in renewing the American dream, Senator Marco Rubio introduced the first part of his opportunity agenda yesterday. As Rubio noted, renewing marriage and work opportunities in poor and working-class communities across the nation will be key to any broader revival in the fortunes of opportunity in America.

Rubio said, in part, that the “truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage.”

But how to renew marriage, which has been in retreat in America since the 1960s? Part of the solution is to increase poor and working-class men’s connection to stable employment. That’s because the research tells us that stable work is a crucial predictor of stable marriage for men. Another part of the solution is to end the marriage penalties embedded in many of the nation’s means-tested welfare policies.

So, I’m intrigued by Rubio’s proposal for a “federal wage supplement,” which would boost the wages of lower-income men and women. There are at least two merits to this idea:

1) It would increase the wages of low-income men and women without penalizing marriage.

2) It would make many low-income men more “marriageable.”

So, here’s hoping that Rubio’s foray into the debate about poverty and equal opportunity in America will encourage some creative policymaking to bridge the growing marriage divide in America. 

— W. Bradford Wilcox is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. You can follow him @WilcoxNMP.


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