In a recent article the NYT narrated the differences between the lives of single parents and married couples, and included this demographic information:
The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.
But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.
Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.
“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.
It is the language that this is being framed in that is so troubling. In a nation in which language like "barriers to upward mobility," "growing advantages in pay," "growth in certain measures of inequality," "rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes," and "marrying helps them stay privileged," often immediately preceeds a call for government intervention, I wonder what this article is setting us up for.
I can think of several ideas that are--when I first consider them--laughable, but which grow less amusing as I reflect that there will be politicians (even in the White House) who will eventually champion them.
If marriage equates to privilege and creating socioeconomic inequality, how long will it be before we see a campaign for a "single parent tax credit" designed to insure that the children in such families are given an "equal chance" at "upward social mobility"?
How would we pay for such a tax credit (which more than likely would take the form of a direct payment, like the current EITC)?
I see several options:
I can see people arguing with a straight face that married couples should have to pay an excise tax on childcare and summer camps in order to share their privilege with others (after all, we must all take care of each other, even if it comes at the expense of taking the best possible care of our own children).
I can see legislators, even in this State, willing to introduce legislation that creates an intentionally larger "marriage penalty" into the tax code to offset the economic advantages of marriage. In some cases, wherein the married couple's income totaled over $250,000/year, I can see a second Obama administration arguing that "you didn't get married into a college-educated, two income family on your own merits," but that "government created that opportunity for you to meet a suitably productive lifemate in college, and you need to be prepared to give something back." I
t will be argued that married couples who don't want to share a greater portion of their economic success due the "fortunate advantage" of being married are being "selfish" and "unpatriotic" to want to invest their wealth exclusively toward the well-being of their own children.
This may all sound like amusing hyperbole today, but give it a few years and I don't think you will be chuckling any more.