Forget the budget deficit. The real problem is our family deficit, says Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.
"It explains some stubborn poverty and our frustrations in combating it. We've learned that what good families provide cannot easily be gotten elsewhere. For the nation, this is the deficit that matters most."
Marriage is becoming an endangered species. Divorce rates remain high, and previous taboos against premarital sex, cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births have essentially vanished, he notes.
Most people probably know marriage has become more unusual, but many might not realize the extent of its disappearance, Samuelson maintains, citing the book "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage" by Isabel Sawhill.
In 1960, only 12 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married. In 2010, that figure had jumped to 47 percent. Naturally the number of single-parent homes has exploded, jumping from 7 percent in 1950 to 31 percent by 2013. The rise of single parents caused poverty rates to jump and personal attention to children to slide, he argues, noting that two parents are typically better than one when it comes to providing children financial and emotional support.
If marriage rates had remained the 1970 level, child poverty would drop by 20 percent, Samuelson says, citing Sawhill's calculations.