| March 12, 2013

Oklahoma House votes to fight child poverty, promote marriage

Last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to promote marriage as an indispensable weapon in the now decades-old “War on Poverty.” Authored by House Speaker T.W. Shannon (pictured above), House Bill 1908 would direct federal dollars — which the state receives as a part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — to a statewide public service campaign to advertise marriage as an unparalleled protection against child poverty.

One statistic says it all: A child with married parents in Oklahoma is 80 percent less likely to live in poverty than a child with unmarried parents, according to the Washington D.C.-based Heritage Foundation. As of 2009, 44.7 percent of single-parent families with children in Oklahoma were poor. In the same year, just 8.8 percent of married couples with children in the state lived at or beneath the poverty line. In other words, single-parent families in Oklahoma are five times more likely to be poor than married families.

As long as the state is in the business of funding public service campaigns, it’s hard to see why anyone would object to the publicly funded advertisement of such statistics. What better assistance could the state provide to needy families than to educate them — at the relatively low cost of a radio or TV ad — about the importance of marital commitment to economic prospects?

Incidentally, of families classified as poor by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 75 percent have a car or truck — presumably with a radio — and nearly 66 percent have cable or satellite television. In other words, radio and TV ads are as good a way to reach these families as any.

Effectiveness and affordability notwithstanding, HB 1908 has still managed to attract opponents. Oklahoma House Rep. Mike Brown (D-Tahlequah) is one of them. “A television commercial doesn’t pay the bills,” Brown said in a news release. “House Republicans seem to think it’s more important to take temporary assistance away from needy families in our state to suit their political agenda.”

Oklahoma currently receives $145 million in TANF funding, according to a news release. The public service campaign is projected to cost less than 1 percent of those funds.

Meanwhile, the state continues to fund anti-smoking and pro-exercise advertising. Perhaps the dollars that drive those campaigns should be redirected to needy families in the state — especially given that a pro-marriage campaign might inadvertently improve the long-term health prospects of Oklahomans anyway.

After all, married individuals have lower rates of mortality than unmarried individuals — about 50 percent lower among women and 250 percent lower among men. They’re less likely to abuse alcohol or to engage in patently self-destructive behaviors (like smoking!). Children of married parents are less likely to do drugs or be obese than the children of unmarried parents.

To suggest that support for marriage is a “political agenda” is incredibly short-sighted. Any person who cares about human flourishing should care to fortify the institution of marriage — and sooner rather than later.

As American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks so aptly put it in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Defending a healthy culture of family, community, and work does not mean imposing an alien ‘bourgeois’ morality on others. It is to recognize what people need to be happy and successful — and what is most missing today in the lives of too many poor people.”

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