Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The LuLac Edition #1936, February 8th, 2012

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I happened to catch this article in Sunday’s Voice. In the business section. The article relates to a phenomenal new book out on what is really dividing our country.
Not equal in more than just income
Income inequality" is the frequent diagnosis for what ails the nation. However, income is hardly the only thing plunging down that chasm between the haves and have-nots. As recent reports indicate, lower incomes also mean inequities in education, health care - even marriage.
While maybe we can understand why the poor lag in health and education, a marriage gap is hard to fathom. Nevertheless, the figures don't lie. A 2010 Pew Research Center study found that "In 1960, people with a college degree were only 4 percentage points more likely to be married than people with a high school education or less. By 2008, that gap widened to 16 percentage points. Just under half of people - 48 percent- without college degrees were married in 2008, compared to 64 percent of college grads."
This is important because, as a 2005 study at Ohio State University found, "people who married and stayed married for 10 years had nearly four times more wealth than their single counterparts. And that gap is even wider when it comes to the median net worth. According to Census data, the average median net worth of married households is seven times the wealth of unmarried households."
Since it makes sense that marriage builds economic stability, we must ask, "Why don't lower-income people just get married and stay married?" An interesting Jan. 21 Wall Street Journal column by Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, attempts to answer (Mr. Murray published a book on the subject on Jan. 31).
According to Mr. Murray, the marriage gap is evidence of a deep cultural schism created, he says, by policies born in the 1960s. He writes, "Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America's core cultural institutions." The major institution he cites is marriage.
Single parenthood engenders poverty and a variety of other ills, he says, and he has a two-part solution. First, he says, "The only thing that can make a difference is the recognition among Americans of all classes that a problem of cultural inequality exists and that something has to be done about it."
Then he says, "The best thing that the new upper class can do … is to drop its condescending 'nonjudgmentalism.' Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms … the new upper class must start preaching what it practices."
But would a collective upper-class frown have any impact?
Gary Drapek, president of United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, thinks not.
"I'm not surprised that poorer people aren't married," he says. "Think about the No. 1 cause of arguments between a married couple: money. Think about all the stresses that come with not having money. It's always there as an underlying current. It's easy to see why people say, 'Let's break this off.' "
Further, he is annoyed by the idea inherent in Mr. Murray's solution that lower-income people should "just buck up and deal with it." Circumstances make "bucking up" impossible, he says. For example, Mr. Drapek says, "We have a program that shows people how to make and stick to a sound budget. We say, 'If you can save $2,000 for education, housing or transportation, we'll match it.' Then along comes the state and implements an asset test for food stamps. There go those savings. Imagine that stress."
According to Mr. Drapek, it's that continued tension that plays havoc with low-income marriages.
Whether you believe in giving more assistance or in a national "wag of the finger," Mr. Murray is correct when he says we must recognize the cultural divide living amongst all the other "inequalities." Far from being your old "ball and chain," your spouse is actually a major factor in your fiscal health.
ELIZABETH ZYGMUNT is editor of the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal. IN THIS CORNER features commentary by guest columnists to the Times Shamrock newspapers.


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