I’m late to this as this weekend’s kerfluffle about marriage and poverty rates. Let me start with the appropriate level of snarking from Lawyers, Guns and Money:
Speaking of conservatives who want to pretend to talk about inequality while not actually talking about it, Edroso finds this gem from Kathleen Parker:
Obviously, marriage won’t cure all ills. A single mother could marry tomorrow and she still wouldn’t have a job. But in the War on Poverty, rebuilding a culture that encourages marriage should be part of the arsenal.
See, if you want to make it to the real big leagues, it’s better to let snarky critics refute your smarm than just doing it yourself. I’ll leave the rest to Roy:
There are strong arguments for actual long term gains from marriage in that two people and two close-tie support networks provide for a system of shock absorbers and support that one person can’t easily match, but a decent chunk of the “marriage” gain is a coding artifact of how poverty is federally defined. This coding error does lead to some people having an incentive to not get married. This is not unique to Obamacare, it is an artifact of any progam that relies on federal poverty guidelines and household size. The first person in a family unit has a federal poverty level of $11,490. Each additional member of a family unit adds $4,020 in 2013. This arrangement assumes Ozzie and Harriet nuclear families with signficant economies of scale. It does not account for co-habitating long term relationships .
When I first moved in with my long term girlfriend and future wife, we filed separate tax returns.That year, we were both under the federal poverty level as individuals because we were grad students. If we had married that year for love or health insurance we would have been significantly over the poverty level for a family unit of two. Yet, there would have been no additional resources available to us. We still would have been broke.
My friends Annie and Beth have been together for almost as long as my wife and I have been. They’re not married as our state is governed by bigots. Last year, Annie did not work too much as she was laid off at the start of the year, and then took time to take care of her mother. Beth worked all year and did well for herself. Beth has insurance through work, and her work offers domestic partner benefits for employees who live in bigot states (SSM states benefits only extend to married couples for Somewhat Evil Medium Size Corp), so Annie was covered as well. However, Annie went on the Exchange and since she had minimal income and is not married, she qualified for a very large subsidy and Silver cost-sharing assistance. If the two of them were in a federally recognized marriage, she would not have qualified for any subsidies for two reasons. First, one person in the marriage had access to affordable employer provided health insurance. Secondly, the combined income of the family would have been over 400% of federal poverty line. These corner cases do exist, and it is an artifact of how poverty is defined in America.
A marriage neutral poverty measure that somehow looked at household size and characteristics of the relationships between the people in the household so that two committed adults with significant ties between them (financial, longevity of relationship, cats etc) would be an improvement. Such a marriage neutral poverty measure would treat Annie and Beth the same as my wife and I and it would remove some perverse incentives. It would be an administrative bear to set-up as it would have to differentiate the roommate relationship I had with one of my best friends in college when I lived with her for two years. We split the bills and I argued ferociously against buying a bunny for anything other than dinner. This must be differentiated from a long term romantic relationship with my girlfriend, then fiancee and now my wife. The simplest take might be a formula where Adult Value is a constant so the poverty level would be Adult Value+Adult Value + X(kids value) instead of the current Single Adult value+X(related others) formula where the Adult Value is someplace around the current Single Adult value.