According to a recent SoonerPoll, 70.3 percent of likely Oklahoma voters believe that the current welfare system discourages marriage and should be changed. By comparison, 20.6 percent of respondents said the system does not need to be changed and 9 percent had no opinion.
Respondents were asked the following question: “Oftentimes, under Oklahoma’s current welfare system, a young woman can receive more financial benefits by remaining single than by marrying the father of her children. Other times, a woman who is already married, can receive more financial benefits by separating from or divorcing her husband. Some people say it is unwise to discourage marriage in this way, and that this policy should be changed. But, other people say marital status shouldn’t matter, and that the policy doesn’t need to be changed. Which view comes closer to your own?”
Most welfare programs in Oklahoma, and the rest of the United States, unintentionally create disincentives for single parents who would otherwise decide to get married through a policy of “means testing.” “Means testing” is policy designed to make sure that welfare programs only give assistance to families who need it.
This policy cuts off access to welfare programs to those who make more than a certain level of income decided by a federally‐set poverty level. Oftentimes, parents are better off staying unmarried since a spouse’s income will figure against their welfare benefits.
“Unfortunately, the ‘war on poverty’ really has been a war on the family,” said OCPA Fiscal Policy Director Jonathan Small, CPA. “I have family members and friends who have personally experienced the tough choice between marriage and government welfare, and all too often have chosen welfare, likely destroying their family and future generations.”
Small went on to say that since the ‘war on poverty’ began in the 1960s, the percentage of children born out of wedlock has increased from a little more than 6 percent to more than 40 percent. For blacks, the percentage of births out of wedlock is over 72 percent.
Though encouraging marriage is often seen as a nonpartisan issue, further analysis reveals some variation of results along party lines. Independents are the most enthusiastic about changing the system with 76 percent in favor of change compared to 73.6 percent of Republicans and 66.7 Democrats.
Similarly, only 60.3 percent of liberals are in favor of changing the system compared to 76.5 percent of conservatives.
“No rational person disagrees with the fact that the intact two parent family is both the greatest incubator for success and the greatest, most consistent driver for economic achievement,” said Small. “According to US Census data, more than 36 percent of single mothers with children were poor, compared to six percent of married couples with children. The overwhelming majority of poor families with children are single parent families, equaling 71 percent of all poor families with children. ”
When results are broken down by sex, men are more likely than women to support changing the welfare system with 74.4 percent of men in favor compared to just 67.4 percent of women. The crosstabs also reveal that 74 percent of evangelicals favor changing the policy, while only 66.8 percent of non-evangelicals would like the policy changed.
SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 509 likely voters from May 2 – 12. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.34 percent.