I returned late last night from speaking at Georgetown University’s Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty (#povertysummit on Twitter). While I still have to digest everything that took place, I want to share a bit about the experience with you.
It was an honor to speak to the more than 700 people who attended the conference. At the event, I was part of a panel responding to the thoughts Harvard Professor Robert Putnam presents in his book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.”
In his book, Dr. Putnam talks about inequality in America, between “children born to educated parents who are more likely to read to them as babies, to drive them to dance class, to nudge them into college themselves — and children whose parents live at the edge of economic survival,” as the Washington Post reports.
It’s the children of those parents, the ones fighting to survive, who live in virtual isolation. These children are in trouble, vulnerable to dangers and subjected to almost-impossible obstacles on the road to success and opportunity.
My heart goes out to those kids because, once upon a time, I lived their reality. When I speak on this issue, I do so as someone who once grew up in poverty. I’ve had to struggle against feelings of guilt that I escaped while so many others did not.
My past helps fuel my passion for God’s design for families. That’s why, at the summit, I tried to stress the importance of marriage as a way to help eradicate poverty. The fact is, unmarried child-bearing is the fastest road to poverty and the most likely to trap moms and children in poverty, followed by cohabitation and divorce.
That’s why I’m so excited about the work Focus on the Family does every day to combat poverty. We do our part by encouraging marriage and helping husbands and wives stay together. The poverty rate goes from 8 percent in marriage to 38 percent after divorce.
Taking a look at the practical impact, 15 percent of married couples were unable to meet utilities, food and rent payments in the past year – but that figure doubles to 30 percent among cohabiting couples. Among singles with no other adult in the picture, it shoots up to 36 percent. Clearly, marriage matters.
As I shared on Monday night, if you reduce the divorce rate, you inevitably will reduce poverty.
Some would argue that our approach is flawed – that as a culture we’re hopelessly “post-marriage,” or that society’s efforts would be better spent focusing on economic factors as causes and remedies for poverty.
I readily acknowledge it’s not an “either/or” problem to be solved with a “purist” solution.
Instead, it’s a matter of degrees.
But I would contend – and the data and experience show this to be true – that robust marriage and family is a more productive solution than is robust social support. Since President Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964, nearly $22 trillion in taxpayer funds has been spent to fight it.
However noble and well-intentioned, the campaign has failed miserably.
Government is rarely (if ever) the solution to a problem, especially when it comes to eradicating social decay.
Instead, we need to pour ourselves into the task of strengthening families by promoting the beauty and sanctity of marriage.
Here at Focus on the Family, it’s become our magnificent obsession. In just the past 12 months, 830,000 couples have built stronger marriages with the help of our resources. Our efforts to help couples in crisis have contributed to over 140,000 marriages saved in the last year alone. That means that we’ve helped save an average of 383 marriages a day, which works out to helping save a marriage about every four minutes.
As I shared at Georgetown, I will continue to extend invitations to other organizations, even those with whom we may not fully agree, to join us as we work to help families.
Poverty is that important, and we can’t afford to be hamstrung by partisan divides.
Poverty, single parenting and divorce aren’t Republican or Democrat problems. That’s why the work we do – giving singles the tools they need to establish healthy marriages, offering couples in crisis hope and help to save their marriage, and equipping parents to raise thriving children – shouldn’t be red or blue solutions.
We can work together – we must work together – to help families in need.
What do you think? What solutions will help reduce poverty in America? How can we work together to help children growing up in hopelessness and isolation?