Why young couples are NOT getting married…
The Pew data also puts into greater relief (for like the millionth time) the long-popular (and long-wrong) conservative idea that marriage is a “cure” for poverty. People aren’t poor because they’re not married, they’re not getting married, in many cases, because they’re economically vulnerable. And gutting the already thoroughly gutted social welfare system only makes things worse. As Stephanie Coontz, a historian of marriage who teaches at Evergreen College, has already pointed out, shrinking the social welfare system and pushing marriage might make Rick Santorum feel pretty good, but it doesn’t do much to help people get out of poverty:
From the 1950s to the mid-1970s, the United States greatly increased government support systems for workers, expanding Social Security, enlarging the safety net and investing in school construction and infrastructure that created jobs for blue-collar workers while improving housing and educational access for the middle class.
The result? More Americans were able to work their way into economic security and to invest in education and training that enabled their children to do even better. Over that period, the poverty rate was halved, falling from 22% to 11%.
It is not the expansion but the erosion of government support and job creation over the past three decades, in combination with the decline of labour unions and employers’ benefits, that largely accounts for the setbacks American families are experiencing and for the decline in social mobility since the 1980s.
So maybe these shifting trends around marriage are creating some space to talk seriously about what marriage does and doesn’t do in the United States. What it does and doesn’t mean. And, perhaps, it’s an opportunity to get clear about the systems we want in a place that allows people to provide care, job security, financial stability and basic things like food and housing for themselves and the people they love, whether or not they say, “I do.”
The above-linked article, as well as the parent NYT article are very worth the read. (If nothing else, just for the perverse irony that those who rant the loudest about how marriage will fix North America’s sagging social fabric have also done the most to bleed the system of the financial opportunities and stability people need to get married…)
But, more then that, it suggests a solution: That if those fundamentalist Churches really want to promote marriage, then adopting the virtual employment agency and social safety net strategy that the Mormon faith has as its core might do a lot more then carrying picket signs and repeatedly voting to favour the already-wealthy while dismantling the social safety net…