- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The breakdown of marriage in America costs at least $112 billion a year, owing to expenses associated with health care, criminal justice, welfare and lost income-tax revenue, said a study sponsored by a nonpartisan think tank along with three conservative pro-family groups.

“This study documents for the first time that divorce and unwed childbearing — besides being bad for children — are also costing taxpayers a ton of money,” said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values (IAV), the think tank that co-sponsored the report.

Even a small improvement in marriage rates — for example, a 1 percent reduction in the rate of “fragmented families” — would save more than $1 billion, Mr. Blankenhorn said.

The cost is huge, Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council, told a Washington press conference yesterday.

In the past five years, he said, the United States has spent more taxpayer money on the consequences of divorce and unwed childbearing than on the Iraq war: $560 billion vs. $500 billion.

The nation should not feel defeated by this news, said Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. Americans “are not a people who just throw up our hands and say, ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing we can do.’ … No, we roll up our sleeves, we work together and … over time we figure out how to do things better.”

“The thing we have to fight is cynicism,” Mr. Hicks said.

Johns Hopkins University family sociologist Andrew Cherlin, who was not associated with the study, questioned both its $112 billion figure and its premise that marriage could ease poverty single-handedly.

The report is “a thought experiment” and the $112 billion number for the cost to Americans is “almost arbitrary,” he said.

Secondly, the report “assumes that we could get every poor, single mother married, and if we did, that their problems would go away,” and neither of those things are going to happen, Mr. Cherlin said.

“Marriage is part of the solution” for impoverished families, “but it can’t be the whole solution,” said Mr. Cherlin, who will soon release information about a three-city study of poor single mothers.

Benjamin Scafidi, an economics professor at Georgia College & State University and principal investigator of the study, said he reached the $112 billion figure by calculating “increased taxpayer expenditures” for welfare, criminal justice and education programs, and lost tax revenues associated with low incomes, childhood poverty and family fragmentation.

The report, which also was co-sponsored by Families Northwest, does not call for a reduction of welfare programs or any other services for single-parent families. Instead, it argues that the nation would be wise, economically and socially, to invest in strategies that strengthen marriages and families before they break up.

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