Today, families will gather around Thanksgiving dinner and offer blessings to those less fortunate.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Increasingly, a single mother with children to feed is the face conjured when people think of homes in financial crisis.
Unwed mothers quickly became the focus of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s latest initiative on childhood poverty. The 12 members of the Governor’s Task Force on Reducing Childhood Poverty held their first meeting Monday, establishing some baseline data by Kansas State University.
All is a good start, especially the research pinpointing poverty indicators for counties.
But a few words of warning, a hope that this effort doesn’t go off the rails like similar initiatives pressed by conservative politicians:
Mention unwed mothers and poverty and the knee-jerk focus often is a push for marriage, rather than the educational attainments that are more likely to keep young women from winding up raising children without the help of the father.
A twisting of cause and effect occurs in people’s heads and they wind up discounting the most productive solutions in favor of ones that fit agendas.
The foundation for that to occur has been laid. Several members of the task force have ties to marriage initiatives. These are often religious approaches emphasizing marriage as crucial in stemming poverty.
Sure enough, at the first meeting, a presenter pitched recommendations that include emphasizing religious faith as a component to healthy marriages.
Here is a key factor to grasp: Poverty is caused by economic instability, not by a lack of marriage. Improving people’s economic status increases the likelihood they will marry, but not necessarily the other way around. Women who are more stable financially, who have higher educational levels, tend to have fewer children and are more likely to form lasting marriages.
Yet groups like the Heritage Foundation continuously preach that marriage should be government’s top strategy to combat poverty.
The contention doesn’t hold on closer scrutiny.
To be clear: Marriage is a good thing for families. Children with married parents benefit in many ways — if the union is emotionally healthy, free from domestic violence and addictions. Children of married couples are less likely to be impoverished.
But there are dangers in latching onto the belief that merely getting people to marry will solve poverty. Too often this theory is used to justify gutting social programs that could help people become financially stable and therefore become more likely to marry.
Let’s hope Brownback’s task force steers clear of making such a mistake.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to email@example.com.