Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Controversial Bid to Promote Marriage

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Controversial Bid to Promote Marriage

Article excerpt

The traditional American family - mom, dad, and a couple of kids - is declining, census data shows. But here in Washington, the political momentum to counter that trend - by using government to promote families, marriage, and fatherhood - is suddenly growing.

Married couples with children make up less than a quarter of all households. To some conservatives, this signals a further fraying of the social fabric. So they're leading an effort to fund everything from high-school classes on marriage to $5,000 bonuses for women at risk of having out-of-wedlock births to encourage them to marry - and stay married.

While critics say there's no evidence such "social engineering" works, both the White House and some Democrats are pushing initiatives that represent a new level of federal involvement in helping the American family. In a controversial move, President Bush is budgeting $315 million over five years for programs to bolster fatherhood and marriage. The initiatives are a precursor to the 2002 reauthorization of the welfare-reform law, when a major recalibration toward fatherhood and marriage programs is expected.

Even supporters concede, however, there's little evidence these programs will change what goes on in homes. And critics abound: Libertarians decry it as an invasion of the most-intimate of human relationships; womens' groups warn of an Ozzie-and-Harriet model being imposed on 21st century families.

But backers say this is the only way to really tackle America's social ills. "All societies recognize that raising children requires more than one person," says Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation here. "But the entire welfare state is a subsidy system for single-parent families - and it discriminates against two-parent families."

He says 90 percent of the money targeted at low-income children and families, such as food stamps and welfare checks, goes to single-parent households. This, even though a child born outside marriage is seven times more likely to live in poverty than one whose parents are married.

But it's not just conservatives who are focusing on the family. Moderate Democrats are pushing fatherhood programs, too. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, has introduced a bill to give $380 million to states for fatherhood initiatives. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut is a co- sponsor. A similar bill in the House has the endorsement of the congressional Black Caucus.

Fatherhood programs typically stress one or more basic elements: encouraging dads to spend time with their kids, pushing them to pay child support, helping them find better jobs so they can support their progeny.

Research, so far, is scanty on the results. The most extensive study to date is of a program called Parents' Fair Share, which operated in seven cities and included all three elements. …

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