A STRONG SOCIETY
Promote Marriage, Family, and Opportunity
While Washington focuses on policies that grant favoritism to the well-connected, the next generation of Americans faces an uphill struggle against social breakdown, a welfare system with the wrong incentives, and poor educational opportunities.
The first of these factors is the most important. A strong future for the next generation begins with the recognition that strong marriages and intact families serve the ends of limited government more effectively, less intrusively, and at less cost than picking up the pieces of a shattered marriage culture. Married men and women tend to have better financial health, increased savings, and greater social mobility than unmarried individuals. Children raised in families headed by a married couple have a greater chance of experiencing economic stability, high academic performance, and emotional maturity.
Despite all the benefits of an intact marriage culture, more than four in 10 children are born outside of marriage today. That is a status quo that threatens individual well-being and hampers opportunity—and one that demands not merely policymaking, but cultural renewal. But rather than make an effort to reinvigorate a declining marriage culture, political and cultural elites are engaged in a campaign to redefine the institution of marriage to include same-sex relationships, undermining every child’s right to a mother and a father. Decades of social science point to households led by a married mom and dad as the best environment for a child’s well-being. We should not allow policy to place the desires of adults over the needs of children. Instead, we should uphold in policy the ideal that every child deserves a mother and a father.
The breakdown of marriage and family is one of the greatest drivers of poverty. Children born outside of marriage are more than five times more likely to experience poverty than those raised in married households. Yet government assistance programs like welfare often create disincentives toward marriage and independence, dampening human flourishing and impeding opportunity. The current welfare system is a web of over 80 different means-tested programs that too often discourage work. Few of these programs have work requirements, and under President Obama, even those that are on the books as a result of reforms in the 1990s have been put in peril. Eliminating marriage penalties and turning welfare into work activation will ensure that more low-income families can achieve self-sufficiency and have the opportunity to enjoy the American dream more fully.
In addition to supporting marriage and reorienting welfare policy toward work, perhaps the most important area in need of reform is our education system, which is failing young people at all levels. Federal government intervention in elementary and secondary education has been growing for half a century, during which time education spending has skyrocketed and programs and regulations have ballooned. The government has also expanded its role in higher education through an open spigot of federal student aid, creating a cycle of lending and spending that has failed to address the college cost problem. These policies, sadly, have not produced results.
Every child deserves the chance for a good education that can prepare him or her for a good job and a bright future. What is sorely needed in K–12 education is not rigid government control but openness to choice and competition.
That means increased flexibility for parents sending their kids to public schools, allowing them to choose the best options for their children and forcing schools to earn their budgets by outperforming neighborhood competition. It means embracing the emerging model of education savings accounts at the state level. Most pressingly, it means that states should reject efforts at centralization like Common Core, allowing for the sort of innovation that occurs only in the laboratories of democracy.
The higher education sphere suffers from a crisis of cost and quality, worsened by an inflationary student loan structure and the domination of the higher education accreditation cartel. These factors have driven college costs to an all-time high at a time when access to knowledge is cheaper than at any other point in human history. Accreditation reform coupled with a major reform in federal student aid, which has exacerbated the college cost problem while saddling students with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, offers some hope of reining in these costs.