The age old relationship conundrum seems to be that if you were raised poor and out of wedlock (hey, that’s me), then it seems pretty likely that you’ll continue the cycle. Naturally, those of us who are products of either or both types of relationships don’t have to succumb to what our parents did or what our families once looked like. But if you don’t continue the cycle, it will be considered a miracle or a non-noteworthy accomplishment.
The point of the Healthy Marriage Initiative was to offer close to $100 million in federal funding to teach poor people how to be married so they would have better families and better lives, presumably. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem to be working. (Hat tip to Jezebel for this Mother Jones piece):
Launched during the Bush administration at the behest of evangelical Christian activists and with the aid of congressional Republicans, the federal Healthy Marriage Initiative was designed to help low-income couples put a little sizzle in their marriages and urge poor unmarried parents to tie the knot, in the hopes that marriage would enhance their finances and get them off the federal dole. Starting in 2006, millions of dollars were hastily distributed to grantees to further this poverty reduction strategy. The money went to such enterprises as “Laugh Your Way America,” a program run by a non-Spanish speaking Wisconsin minister who used federal dollars to offer ”Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” seminars to Latinos. It funded Rabbi Stephen Baars, a British rabbi who’d been giving his trademarked “Bliss” marriage seminars to upper-middle-class Jews in Montgomery County, Maryland, for years. With the help of the federal government, he brought his program to inner-city DC for the benefit of African American single moms.
The marriage money was diverted from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (formerly known as welfare), and much of it went to religious groups that went to work trying to combat the divorce rate in their communities by sponsoring date nights and romance workshops. In some cities, the local grantees used their federal funds to recruit professional athletes to make public service announcements touting the benefits of marriage. Women’s groups were especially critical of the marriage initiative, largely because it was the baby of Wade Horn, a controversial figure who Bush installed at HHS as the head of the Administration for Children and Families and the administration’s official “marriage czar.”
…Studies show that relationship classes can be helpful for white, middle-class couples, but when the federal government started dumping million of poverty dollars into marriage education, there was virtually no research on how such programs would fare with poor, inner-city single moms. Now, though, the data is in, and it doesn’t look good for proponents of taxpayer funded marriage education. This month, HHS released the results of several years of research about the performance of the marriage programs, and it indicates that the Bush-era effort to encourage Americans (straight ones, at least) to walk down the aisle has been a serious flop.
I have a few guesses about why this happened. As someone points out in the piece, if you don’t have the money to put a ring on it, you’re not likely to spend what little money you have on a relationship class. Also, relationships are hard work. Marriages are also extremely intense, from what I’ve heard. They need societal support to thrive – intact families beget intact families. And if you don’t own things, generally, there isn’t a huge cultural or even economic incentive for you to get married. I write a lot about women, obviously, so I’m talking about them mostly. But this also strikes me as being particularly true for men of color who are not wealthy or middle class.