Best way to reduce childhood poverty? Married parents, expert says

A nationally recognized expert on programs for the poor said Monday that the best way to fight childhood poverty in Kansas is to encourage men and women to get married.

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told an audience of about 250 in Kansas City, Kan., that two-parent households could reduce the likelihood of childhood poverty in the state by 84%.

“The effect of marriage in reducing poverty is stronger statistically than graduating from high school,” Rector said. “We ought to tell somebody this. This should not be a national secret.”

Rector was heavily involved in the 1996 welfare reform law, which required work and training for almost everyone getting public assistance. He has also written extensively on abstinence education and immigration reform.

He said the state should encourage marriage by providing information about its benefits to children as they grow up. He also said the state should not penalize recipients of assistance if they get married.

Rector spoke at a town hall meeting on childhood poverty sponsored by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. The session — the first of three child-poverty town halls scheduled in the state — was held at the Jack Reardon Center.

Attendees heard a grim litany of statistics about the state of childhood poverty in the state and the area. Joe Reardon, head of the Unified Government in Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County, said more than one in three children in his county lives in poverty.

Nearly 25% of all Kansas children are considered poor.

Brownback, who left before the conclusion of the town hall session, said he hoped the meetings would provide practical suggestions for reducing childhood poverty.

“We’re leaning in, trying to find effective strategies,” the Republican governor said. “I’m not interested in things that aren’t going to work, and I’m not interested in window dressing.”

But a coalition of public interest and liberal lobbying groups said before the session that Brownback and the Kansas Legislature should focus on more funding for education and health care as a way to lift children out of poverty.

“The governor…has staged a political event to pretend as if he cares,” said Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women. “When all of his policies point clearly to the fact that the man does not care about working Kansans and lifting him out of these difficult times.”

The town hall included a discussion session for participants. Recommendations may be included in legislation to be introduced next year.