Political opinions often arouse debates concerning the government’s interest in healthy relationships and the institution of marriage. Beyond the social progress indicators achieved through healthier marriages and relationships, the purely economic interest the government holds in marriage is undeniable.
Consider a study conducted in 2008 by economist Benjamin Scafidi, which estimated that the cost to taxpayers in the United States of divorces and unwed mothers reaches an estimated minimum of $112 billion a year. Furthermore, it was found that family fragmentation in North Carolina costs the taxpayers of this state over $1.3 billion every year, with around $587 million alone of the expenditures to North Carolinians arising from expenses of the criminal justice system in our state.
Unfortunately, family fragmentation causes poverty to disproportionately fall on those couples or singles that are unwed with children. In 2009, according to a study by The Heritage Foundation using U.S. census data, the poverty rate for single parents with children was 37 percent, while the rate for married couples with children was only 7 percent. We are seeing both as a country and state increasing lines of inequality among both education and marriage. The same study states, “The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high school degree or less.”
In order to mitigate the taxpayer costs of fragmented families in North Carolina, this state needs to fund and implement healthy relationship education programs in public high schools. Providing this investment, especially to populations and areas at high-risk for fragmentation, holds undeniably high returns on public dollar investments in the long run.
Research shows familial status will have deeply impactful implications in the long run on a student’s financial situation as well as emotional and mental health. Including development of skills such as conflict management, greater self-control when speaking and higher emotional intelligence, these education programs hold the potential to reduce future family fragmentation significantly. According to one study using U.S. Census data conducted by Robert Rector, a Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, being raised in a married family reduces a child’s probability of living in poverty by 82 percent.
Consider Oklahoma’s marriage initiative, which has provided healthy relationship education for groups from high schoolers to already married individuals. The majority of researchers have thought the initiative to be successful, with many projected returns on those public dollars not even being fully realized at this point. Additionally, an initiative of this kind provides middle ground for those in all places within the political spectrum. For the conservative-minded, this offers a chance to reinforce strong family values within society, and build strong civil units. For the liberal-minded, this education program would offer a chance for strong public investments that have an incredibly high social return on investment.
If North Carolina fails as a state to properly invest in this type of education, especially to at-risk populations, we will only continue to see greater inequality, and the social and economic costs that accompany it.