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Monday, February 12, 2002

Marriage Presidential Style

W's Plan to Marry Welfare Moms

by Jessica Scheiner

Women on welfare across the nation stood up last week and cheered when the president of the United States, George Walker Bush, announced that he planned to spend over $100 million to get them married. These women ran in hordes to quit their jobs and educational programs, realizing that this was not the way out of poverty and into self-sufficiency – they needed a man. Non-profits hoping to get on Bush’s money train shut down their job training and literacy programs in order to begin more critical classes on manners and etiquette. Lesbians ran in throngs to heterosexual conversion clinics, finally having an excuse to switch to the other team. Teenagers who had lost hope that they would ever go to a prom, went shopping for dresses – just in case the president’s next budget addition was for finding them dates.

What did the president plan to spend the money on? Love spells, magic potions, or wart removal kits for unsightly frogs waiting to become princes. Subsidies to remove ugly blemishes or tattoos claiming the wearer “loves Jim” or “Sam” or even “Mom”? Or perhaps a dowry for each woman on welfare, a tactic that obviously worked well in years passed. Better yet – a government-run dating service complete with video tapes, where hopeful welfare recipients could discuss their love of long walks on the beach, sunsets, and drinking hot chocolate after a long day of skiing.

Bush’s actual plan for the money is still unclear beyond the fact that $100 million dollars is budgeted toward experimental programs aimed at encouraging women on welfare to get married.

The president’s heart is in the right place. He does want to help women get off welfare and out of poverty, and indeed getting married may be the easiest way to do this.

But let’s say, just for one minute, that there are other ways to help women off welfare. What else might the $100 million go toward? It could pay two-thirds of the $150 million needed to create a new “Employment Advancement Fund” for state experiments on improving wages for low-income workers. It could replace the $100 million in annual bonuses that will be eliminated in the new budget, which were destined for states that do the best job in reducing births to unmarried parents. The money could also go toward 9,090,909 California community college units at $11 a unit; 3,333,333 weeks of child care at $30 a week; 23,188 Section 8 housing vouchers; or 3,333 fulltime jobs at $30,000 a year.

To the president’s credit, a number of studies show that not only can marriage be a quick fix to poverty, but it also benefits both adults and children substantially.

According to Robert Moffitt, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, many women on welfare hold the traditional view that the man should be the breadwinner and support his wife and children, but such an option is simply not realistic for them. Welfare allows these women to choose between marrying the fathers of their children and relying on their limited earning abilities, and the economic stability of a welfare check. Even if Bush’s proposal brings couples together, if men in low-income neighborhoods do not receive additional job training, education, or career services, they will not pave the road out of poverty.

Regardless of the economics, should the government be involved in the marriage game? With the high U.S. divorce rate, should women be coerced, or at least encouraged, into marriage simply to save the government money? What happened to the dream of spending one’s life with a person who is not merely compatible, but truly love? Or is this an ideal allowed to only the more affluent.

Women are just as intelligent and capable as males. They manage just fine alongside their male counterparts in higher education, employment, and all other avenues of life. Women can make their own choices and take care of themselves but – like men – they sometimes need a helping hand. Is marriage the right hand?