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Should mothers who have children out of wedlock be denied welfare?

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Michael D. Tanner
Senior Fellow, Cato Institute. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2011

Since Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1965, the federal government has spent roughly $18 trillion fighting poverty, almost $700 billion this year alone, on some 107 separate programs. Yet, the poverty rate stands at 15.1 percent. While this number may be partially inflated because of the poor economy, it is important to realize that, despite trillions in spending, we have never gotten the poverty rate below 11 percent. Clearly we are doing some things wrong.

One is perpetuating government programs that create an incentive for behavior that is likely to lead to poverty. In particular, our welfare programs continue to provide benefits to women who give birth out of wedlock.

The concern over this trend is not about personal morality. Having a child out of wedlock often means a lifetime of poverty. Children living with single mothers are almost six times more likely to be poor than those living with two parents. More than 20 percent of welfare recipients start on welfare because they have an out-of-wedlock birth. They also tend to stay on welfare longer than other recipients.

The trend is even worse among unwed teenage mothers. Half go on welfare within one year of the birth of their first child; 75 percent are on welfare within five years of the child's birth. Women who started on welfare because of an out-of-wedlock birth average more than nine years on welfare and make up roughly 40 percent of all recipients who are on welfare for 10 years or longer.

While there are many factors behind the rise in out-of-wedlock births, the availability of welfare is one. Of the more than 20 major studies of the issue, more than three-quarters show a significant link between benefit levels and out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Obviously no one gets pregnant to get welfare. But by softening the immediate as opposed to the long-term economic consequences of out-of-wedlock births, welfare has removed a major incentive to avoid them. As Charles Murray, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, put it, “The evil of the modern welfare state is not that it bribes women to have babies — wanting to have babies is natural — but that it enables women to bear children without the natural social restraints.”

A good start to a welfare policy that might actually reduce poverty would be to set a date — say nine months from today — after which an out-of-wedlock birth would no longer make one eligible for welfare.

Ladonna A. Pavetti
Vice President for Family Income-Support Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2011

The case for rejecting a policy that would deny cash assistance to mothers who have children out of wedlock was compelling in 1996, when Congress created Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — the current welfare law — and it's even more compelling now.

For starters, such a policy would deny support to children who bear no responsibility for their parents’ actions. With growing evidence that poverty among young children reduces their chances of success throughout their lives, we should do everything we can to make sure that all children have the support they need to become productive adults.

A recent article by University of California, Irvine, education professor Greg J. Duncan and University of Wisconsin, Madison, professor of social work Katherine Magnuson provides all the evidence we need. Duncan is one of the most respected academic researchers on the consequences of childhood poverty, and he has always been particularly cautious in drawing policy conclusions from academic research. Two key points from the article stand out:

  • Income matters for young, low-income children's learning;

  • Poverty in early childhood may reduce earnings much later in life.

The authors recommend that states avoid TANF policy changes that threaten the well-being of young children. Indeed, we should be seeking more ways to remediate deep and persistent poverty in early childhood — not fewer.

Besides, although TANF provides an important safety net for single-parent families, it is not the main source of support for families with out-of-wedlock children. So, denying them these benefits will play no role in changing societal behavior. In the late 1990s, when the economy was strong, record numbers of single parents entered the labor force, reaching a high of 83 percent by 2000. Even in the current economy, 74 percent of them still work. In contrast, only 27 families for every 100 in poverty receive TANF benefits. And, TANF benefits are meager: In the median state in 2011, a family of three received $429 per month; in 14 states, such a family received less than $300.

In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that children born to unmarried parents could not be punished for their parents’ actions. The question we should be answering is: How can we make investments in our children that guarantee bright and productive futures for all of them? The answers matter not only for our children, but for all of us.

by on Dec. 9, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Replies (131-140):
by on Dec. 11, 2012 at 8:32 AM
1 mom liked this

Right or wrong. We need to stop it at the source. Otherwise, the cycle continues.

My stepson's mother has 3 children by 3 different daddies and not married to any of them.  With my stepson, they had to do a paternity test because she was in a "relationship" and she slept with 2 other men as well. My husband paid back child support plus every penny of her medical. She was on assistance with every one of her children. Now, her daughter has continued the cycle. She had a daughter when she was 15. And desperately wants another. She is not raising or supporting her daughter. And will most likely not support any other children she has.

Quoting Ziva65:

IDK- seems to me the child has to be taken care of. I'd actually be in support of removing the child and placing them into foster care or an adoptive family; even sterilize moms who perpetually have kids out of wedlock and can't afford them. Why foster that behavior.

Forget morality, I don't care what they do or their personal consequences. I've seen enough gonorrhea, even syphillis, and all that with some of these moms too- even steriliing them won't stop that. It will still cost society.

Just take care of the kids and stop the cycle. However that happens IDK. I'd like to know the overall percent of these moms though in society, not sure it's that significant for being discussion worthy anyway.

Extremist enough? JMO.

by Member on Dec. 11, 2012 at 9:11 AM

Ok Claire-Huxtable, how many foster kids do you have right now? If this were to pass how many can we count on you taking?  Obviosly, you wouldn't just throw these kids out on the street with no one to love and care for them. That would be barbaric. The foster care system is already streached thin, so you obvisouly are trying to improve that before suggesting they take on even MORE kids, these ones from loving mothers who's only mistake was being poor.

Quoting Claire-Huxtable:

Many many young women and families.

If you want to say women don't become pregnant very often while on PA, then why would that bankrupt us? I never once said a single mother couldn't receive PA so those kids aren't going to be removed. Where would these kids go? Into the system until she can care for another child adequately.

Quoting jaxTheMomm:

Once again - if you are actually talking about ripping children from their mother's arms (getting pregnant does not make you a neglectful mother, regardless of the circumstances) and putting them somewhere else, where do you suggest these children be placed, and who will pay for it?

Do you actually realize how much that would cost, and the damage it would do to these children?  It would cost a SHITLOAD more than PA costs us right now, and do unmeasurable damage to innocent children.  It would break us, and give us a generation of broken kids.

Can you come up with no better ideas than this horrible, knee-jerk reaction?

How many women on PA become pregnant, while on PA? 

Quoting Claire-Huxtable:

If she can't provide for them because she will longer get PA if she has another, that can be seen as neglect and she would have no case.

I still do not see why we should just shrug our shoulders and say oh well if they have more while on PA.

Quoting jaxTheMomm:

Once  these children are taken away from their mother, where should they go?  Who will care for them, keep them safe, feed them and clothe them?

Who will pay for that?

When the mother gets a lawyer and goes after the system (as she rightly should) for removing her children from her care, who will pay for the defense?  When she sues (and wins), who will pay for that?

Quoting Claire-Huxtable:

Yes. I completely believe what I posted. There is not an excuse other than rape to have more children while you use PA. There simply isn't

Quoting ShanesMommy2012:

Do you even think before you say some of these things? Like, really?

Quoting Claire-Huxtable:

I don't have a way other than she finds some way to do it.   Or I guess, the kids gets removed from her home because she can't for the child.

Is that horrible?   Yes.   Could some say it is cruel?   Totally.   But maybe women need to learn they have to actually be able to provide for their kids.

Quoting Arroree:

And how exactly do you suggest she pay for those things when she has no money to pay for food?? This idea makes no sense at all.

Quoting Claire-Huxtable:

I think not allowing additional stuff if you have another while on welfare is a good idea.   Maybe if she had to pay for the doctor visit or those school lunches, she might do different stuff.

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by Member on Dec. 11, 2012 at 9:13 AM

No. It's about the children, who have no control over their situation.

by on Dec. 11, 2012 at 9:25 AM

No....even though I do tend to agree with some of the things in the pro arguement.  I grew up in a single parent dad never grasped the child support thing.  My childhood would have been much better if there were 2 parents contributing to my life.

by Member on Dec. 11, 2012 at 9:42 AM
Hahahaha than who would be on welfare!!???
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by Silver Member on Dec. 11, 2012 at 9:43 AM
Most of the people championing foster care have never been in it. I have & so has my boyfriend. He aged out of the system. A lot of foster parents live in the ghetto & are on FS.. A lot of them don't care about the kids at all. They just want a check. Some babies get adopted what about all the minority babies who don't?

When did we decide its better to take a child away from a loving parent & place them with a stranger just to punish those parents?

Maybe we should increase work requirements. Maybe we should work with employees to hire more single parents. The job office at the welfare office is a joke. Its a computer with an internet connection. Maybe we should work on real tax incentives for employers who hire people on welfare & pay them enough $ to not qualify for welfare ( around $10/hr in my state). Maybe we should open up daycares & hire people on welfare to work there & let patents on welfare take their kids there. Thus, helping people gets jobs.

Maybe we can have real sex education in the schools & quit opposing schools that pass out contraception.
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by on Dec. 11, 2012 at 6:04 PM

Should corporations that move jobs overseas have tax exemptions? 

by Bronze Member on Dec. 11, 2012 at 7:02 PM

I read this a few days ago and I have been trying to figure out how to reply politely.  I can't.  So I will simply say that no child should be hungry because a parent (any parent of any marital status) is unable to give them adequate nutrition at the moment.  Starving a child is wrong regardless of how that child came into this world.  

by Silver Member on Dec. 12, 2012 at 10:45 PM

I don't mind people receiving help(married or not) who have fallen on bad times.  I do think women who continuously have kids while on welfare need to be cut off somewhere though. That is abuse. My generation was raised to educate, work and then have kids when you can afford it.  I think we need to push more of those "old fashioned" views.  I know a woman who lives in a shelter, has 5 kids with a different father each time and continued having kids even though she could NOT take care of herself or her family. I have a problem with that.  It seems there is a lot more abuse going on now.  Maybe if people realized they could be cut off after 2 kids they would think twice before having more they cannot take care of. If people realized they were not going to get these services, it may help them make better life choices.

by Member on Dec. 12, 2012 at 10:46 PM
No! Single mother's need help most the time
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