11 Aug Intact Families Make Good Fiscal Policy
It faces us at every turn: the economy. Whether it is from our own current financial casualties or from the media’s barrage of messages on the subject; as citizens we are consumed with our nation’s fiscal future. Answers to our economic woes range from nationalizing private industries, financial industry regulation, or other economic stimulus packages. As governments worldwide scramble to discover ways to pay for economic collapse, ironically there is little discussion surrounding the possible taxpayer savings available from strengthening the basic institution of society – the family.
Though this might seem to be an unusual approach, a growing body of research supports the fact that fragmented families relay a massive financial burden onto federal and local governments. As a result, should these same governments choose to invest even minimally into preserving marriages, they would be met with rich reward.
The most obvious costs associated with divorce are certainly emotional, and should never be trivialized or downplayed. However, for those who form policies for larger groups or communities, it is important to also recognize the financial outlays associated with failing marriages. Though this approach is met with some skepticism by critics, an increasing amount of research is revealing a very real need for lawmakers and the public to pay attention to its cost.
Last year the Institute for American Values, conservatively estimated an amount that American taxpayers pay for expenditures associated with divorce and unwed childbearing. The price tag is a staggering $112 billion dollars per year, exceeding $1 trillion dollars a decade. To put that figure into perspective, that amount exceeds the cost of funding the war in Iraq on an annual basis, or would fund American public healthcare based on the estimates put forth by the Obama administration. It is a sobering statistical comparison, but one based in sound reasoning.
Decades of research support the connection between divorce and unmarried childbearing with increased poverty. As a result, taxpayers inevitably pay for social programs associated with lifting the poor and needy resulting from such circumstances, particularly since it has been demonstrated statistically that single-parent households are much more likely than married households to make use of government benefits – regardless of comparable income levels.*
After taking the recorded percentages each of these respective organizations claims are associated with single-parent families, as well as adding in estimates associated with lost tax revenue resulting from such poverty, one can mathematically deduce an aggregate of costs for each of the fifty states, as well as the financial burden passed on to the federal government.
Studies of this type are not isolated. In 2006 David G. Schramm of Auburn University published an even more in-depth study in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues entitled, “Individual and Social Costs of Divorce in Utah.” The study was inspired by the state of Oklahoma’s efforts to curb their financial burden associated with their high divorce rate.
Assuming the same concerns for any state, Schramm applied his study to Utah by outlining several categories of monetary costs associated with divorce, including lost work productivity and direct costs to the state and federal governments. As a result, he estimated that the financial consequences of divorce totaled well over $300 million per year for that state alone.
The Cost of Broken Families Receives Attention Internationally
Statistical data surrounding the costs of divided families is not isolated to the United States. In the last decade, other nations have begun to take notice of the financial toll associated with this societal breakdown. Published this year, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada announced that at least 7 billion Canadian dollars annually fund the associated consequences related with divorce in that nation. A 1998 study by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia placed the costs for that country at 6 billion Australian dollars per year.
In 2008 an economic and family policy think tank estimated New Zealand’s costs approached 1 billion New Zealand dollars annually. Meanwhile, in February of 2009 the non-partisan British Relationships Foundation estimated that the United Kingdom spends a shocking 37.03 billion pounds ($60.63 billion) annually to subsidize the costs associated with divorce.
Beyond the emotional toll divorce takes on the children and adults involved, it is important to recognize that it is also a significant financial detriment to communities and nations. As a result, lawmakers would prove wise to consider that even very small increases in stable marriages would produce worthwhile savings to their constituents.
Expenditures associated with government and civic marriage-strengthening programs are generally reasonable. For instance, Texas recently earmarked $15 million for a two-year experiment with marriage education and other similar programs to promote such an outcome. Based on the Institute for Family Values’ estimate, “If such a program succeeded in increasing stable married families by just three-tenths of 1 percent, it would still save Texas taxpayers almost $9 million per year”.
A small handful of states have also started modest programs dedicated to support the stability of marriages, (see www.okmarriage.org and www.utahmarriage.org), yet these kinds of efforts ought to be multiplied on a much greater scale.
David G. Schramm’s 2006 study eloquently expressed this need by stating, “national and world governments would do well to implement policies that will strengthen healthy marriages for those who choose to marry. These marriage and family-friendly policies can be seen as an investment; an investment of paramount importance, for it is an investment for the betterment of future generations”.
The soft economy is a definite hardship for everyone. However, it can also be an opportunity to encourage governments everywhere to focus on investing in a cost-effective savings – the family.
* Examples of such programs include Temporary Assistance of Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Child Welfare programs, Women Infants and Children Assistance (WIC), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Head Start, School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, and the Justice System.
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United Families International
World Congress of Families V In Progress