Official Statement By Victoria Cobb At Today's News ConferenceJun 11, 2009
Here it is, in its entirety. Great stuff and worth the read.
Official Statement By Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation of Virginia, At Today's Capitol Square News Conference, Regarding Poverty In Virginia And Governor Kaine's Poverty Task Force
Good morning and thank you for being here today.
The issue of poverty and how to address it has always been a challenge. Some groups and organizations, many faith-based, do exceptional work providing services to those who find themselves in extraordinarily difficult economic situations. Often, these service providers are able to address the symptoms of poverty, some try to address the root causes.
At The Family Foundation, we are committed to supporting initiatives and principles that will address the root causes of poverty. Parental choice in education for example, will help children in poverty become better educated to be able to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. Such proposals involve less government, not more. Unfortunately, it seems that in our current cultural lexicon that social justice equals government intervention.
But perhaps the most important single factor in reducing poverty in our nation is protecting and rebuilding the very institution our organization revolves around — the family. Regardless of your perspective on the issue of poverty, the science is in and it is absolutely clear — the best safety net, the best deterrent to poverty — is an intact, married, two-parent family. The numbers are overwhelming.
Simply put . . . more marriage, less poverty.
According to Sociologist Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia, "The collective consequences of marriage are quite large. If we were to increase the percent of children living in married homes to the level we experienced in 1970, scholars estimate that 1 million fewer children each year would be suspended from school, 900,000 fewer children each year would engage in acts of delinquency or violence, and 61,000 fewer children each year would attempt suicide. We would also see child poverty drop by approximately 20 percent, and Virginia welfare spending drop by millions. Clearly, marriage matters to Virginia — and particularly to education, public order, and the fiscal health of the Commonwealth."
I imagine if any candidate for office offered a proposal that would guarantee a 20 percent reduction in child poverty that would not cost the taxpayers a penny, they would raise some eyebrows, but that is exactly what increasing the number of marriages and in-wedlock child birth would do.
Unfortunately, Virginia is headed in the opposite direction. As the national divorce rate declined over the past two decades and has now stabilized, in Virginia, it continues to rise — nearly 14 percent since 1990. In addition, fewer people in the Old Dominion are getting married. In 1990, there were over 70,000 marriages in the Commonwealth. By 2006, that number dropped to just over 60,000. When population growth is considered, this shows an astonishing 35 percent decline in the marriage rate.
In 1960, about 20 percent of marriages ended in divorce; today almost half of marriages end in divorce. Much of that increase can be attributed to the introduction of unilateral, no-fault divorce laws in the late '60s and early '70s. As a consequence, American children — especially children from poor and minority homes — are much less likely to spend their childhood in an intact marriage than they were 50 years ago, resulting in at least half of all American children living apart from mom or dad for some period of time. Consequently, they are far more likely to live in poverty. One study showed that more than 20 percent of divorced mothers fall into poverty.
The positive impact of marriage and children born in wedlock is undeniable and supported by science. The only disagreement is exactly how much marriage improves the lives of men, women, children and society — a lot or a whole lot!
And as I have told you on several other occasions, this breakdown in the family costs Virginia's taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. According to the report, The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing, "Family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year."
The study estimates that Virginians pay at least $776 million per year in additional taxes due to divorce and family fragmentation. The study states that the costs . . .
arise from increased taxpayer expenditures of anti-poverty, criminal justice, and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.
Public debate on marriage in this country has focused on the 'social costs' of family fragmentation (that is, divorce and unwed childbearing), and research suggests that these are indeed extensive. But marriage is more than a moral or social institution; it is also an economic one, a generator of social and human capital, especially when it comes to children.
Increasing the number of marriages, strengthening existing marriages, and restoring marriage to its rightful place as an honored and encouraged union are goals that must be reestablished in our culture, and in our public policy.
Two years ago, The Family Foundation formed a marriage commission to find public policy proposals that could begin to address the decline of marriage. Consisting of law professors from Notre Dame, Washington and Lee, and Regent Law schools; sociologists such as Professor Wilcox, whom I've quoted today; marriage education experts, policy experts, family law attorneys, marriage counselors and church leaders, the commission met several times and reviewed numerous proposals, two of which have passed the General Assembly.
Last month, when Governor Kaine announced his work force on poverty, I was surprised and disappointed that no mention was made of the one absolutely effective means of reducing poverty and giving children the absolute best chance. Nowhere does it appear that the task force is going to address the fragmentation of the family.
Let me be clear: It is simply not possible to adequately address the issue of poverty in our Commonwealth without addressing the issues of family break up and family fragmentation.
Yesterday, we sent a letter to the Governor urging him to add a working group to his poverty task force that focuses on the issues of divorce, family breakup and out of wedlock births. I believe that these are issues that the Governor is indeed concerned about, as evidenced by his support this year of our primary marriage legislative initiative that added the benefits and value of marriage to the Commonwealth's FLE curriculum.
I hope that he addresses this oversight and adds these important elements to the task force. The issue of poverty in Virginia must be addressed, but we can no longer hide behind partisan rhetoric. We must be willing to go to the source of poverty if we want to address it. Anything less and we will simply be fooling ourselves. Anything less and we will once again look to the government for the solutions. We are better than that. We have to be.
Regardless of the Governor's actions, we at The Family Foundation will work with the General Assembly to pass more legislation that strengthens marriage. In 2008, the GA passed a bill we sponsored that allows for the direction of one percent of unrestricted Temporary Assistance for Need Families Funds (TANF) to initiatives that encourage and strengthen marriage. "The 1% Solution" has already been adopted by several states, including Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Utah. Many healthy marriage programs do valuable work in Virginia including providing marriage preparation courses, crisis intervention programs and other programs to assist couples in creating and maintaining healthy marriages. You will hear from the leader of one such group in a few minutes. Directing funds to these programs is a front-end solution that significantly decreases the cost of social services to the taxpayer by decreasing the number of divorces. However, that law must be changed from simply a suggestion to a requirement.
We continue to believe that families in Virginia are overburdened by taxes and that some type of tax relief, whether it is completing the phase our of the car tax or increasing the standard deduction for couples, must be done to relive the stress of financial insecurity. Financial stress is one of the primary causes of marriage tension and break up. Part of this is government's burdensome tax code. This has to change.
Government has a compelling interest in the creation and maintenance of marriages because as social science proves, the health of marriage has everything to do with the welfare of our state's children, families, and communities. A healthy, stable marriage is the absolute best safety net for men, women and children. Healthy marriages require little or no government interaction. It is only when divorce comes into play that the government gets highly involve as the co-conspirator and the entity left holding the bag, paying the costs of broken families through the welfare rolls and the criminal justice system.
We hope the Governor agrees.