The National Marriage Project’s Marriage Agenda

In light of our recent discussion of the findings of Autor and Wasserman on the impact of changing patterns of family formation on educational and labor market outcomes, the inevitable question is: what exactly can we do about it? There are a number of potentially attractive “two-fers,” i.e., measures that might promote family stability while yielding other positive outcomes, e.g.:

(a) pursuing “swift-and-certain” crime control strategies rather than relying so heavily on incarceration, as this might improve labor market outcomes for less-skilled men living in high-poverty neighborhoods while also reducing the costs of direct and indirect costs of victimization;

(b) low-wage employment subsidies, to make participation in the formal labor market more attractive for less-skilled men who’ve seen their labor market position deteriorate in recent years;

(c) and an expanded child credit to ease the payroll tax burden on low- and middle-income parents.

Recently, Elizabeth Marquardt, David Blankenhorn, Robert I. Lerman, Linda Malone-Colón, and W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project issued a report that aimed to identify policies that had the potential to promote and strengthen stable marriage, “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten Sixty Percent,” which includes a number of promising ideas, including

(i) ending marriage penalties in the tax code and means-tested entitlement programs;

(ii) tripling the child tax credit for children under age three;

(iii) making young men more marriageable by promoting, among other things, apprenticeships and criminal justice reform;

(iv) discouraging divorce by encouraging state governments to pass the Second Chances Act, which extends the waiting period for divorce to at least one year and provides educational resources for couples seeking to resolve their differences;

(v) requiring premarital education for those seeking to form stepfamilies;

(vi) investing in marriage and relationship education programs;

(vii) and making use of the presidential bully pulpit, something President Obama is very well-placed to do.

The Obama administration hasn’t really focused on fatherhood and marriage as much as some of us had hoped, but could change in the years to come. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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