How Marriage Fights Poverty

A blog about business and economics.
April 1 2013 2:07 PM

How Marriage Fights Poverty  

With various marriage debates back in the news, one thing that I think is worth clarifying is that as conservatives say, marriage is one of the most effective anti-poverty tools around. What conservatives tend not to say is that this largely happens through the power of pure statistical aggregation.

Consider the federal poverty line for a single parent with one child—$15,510. If you work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year at $7.25 an hour, you're left with just $14,500, and your little household is poor. But if a full-time minimum-wage worker with one kid marries a second full-time minimum-wage worker with one kid, then they have a combined income of $29,000, which puts them well above the federal poverty line for a family of four, which is only $23,550. In fact, you could add an additional kid and the five-person household still wouldn't be poor.

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And good for them. But nobody is actually earning more money this way. The federal poverty line formula simply stipulates that one person needs at least $11,490 to not count as poor, and then each additional household member needs $4,020.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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