In America, the most effective “anti-poverty program” is the institution of work (more specifically, ensuring people have a full-time job). The second most effective program for preventing people from being poor is the institution of marriage.
The poverty rate among married couples in America is around 6 percent, and among married couples who both have full-time jobs the poverty rate is practically zero (0.001 percent). In contrast, the poverty rate among single-dads/moms is much higher: 25 percent for single dads / 31 percent for single moms.
Unfortunately, government-based anti-poverty programs tend to conflict with or discourage the benefits of work and marriage. In his 1984 book Losing Ground, Charles Murray reported that the expansion of federal and state support for poor families during the 1960s-era War on Poverty ended up penalizing marriage. The reason is that government aid is often “means-tested” — recipients can only receive the aid if they do not possess the means to do without that help.
While this may seem like a commonsensical approach, it can have detrimental unintended consequences. For example, a single-mother may be receiving $15,000 in aid from the government and wish to marry a man who is earning $15,000. Before walking down the aisle, though, she learns that her potential husband’s income would put her over the means-tested threshold and she would lose all government aid. She would be better off, financially speaking, by merely “shacking up” with the man and not getting married at all. (more…)