By Joel Hall
Four major organizations dedicated to family and marriage initiatives released a national study this week, estimating that divorce and unwed childbearing costs American taxpayers at least $112 billion annually.
The Georgia Family Council, the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, and Families Northwest, presented the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
The report is the first of its kind to place a dollar amount, state-by-state, on the cost incurred by single-parent households on public assistance and anti-poverty programs.
The formula used in the study factors in federal, state, and local expenditures on programs such as Foods Stamps, Medicaid, SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program), Child Welfare Services, reduced breakfast and lunch, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) assistance, and Head Start.
It also takes into account court costs associated with divorce and marriage-related child poverty.
On Tuesday, April 29, Eric Cochling, vice president of public policy for the Georgia Family Council, will share the report's findings in Jonesboro, during the quarterly meeting of the Clayton County Marriage and Family Initiative.
The meeting will take place at My Place Coffee on Main Street in Jonesboro, from 11 a.m., to 1 p.m.
Randy Hicks, president of the Georgia Family Council, said the report, which took one and a half years to compile, makes an economic argument for marriage and family initiatives, rather than just a moral one.
"For the past couple of decades, we've had a vast compilation of social research that [shows] family fragmentation results in all kinds of social harms," said Hicks. "A lot of people don't really respond to a conversation of human suffering ... but they relate to the cost. The study gives us the ability to tell more leaders that there is a human cost, but there is also an economic cost and you need to be concerned about it."
The report says divorce and unwed childbearing costs the state of Georgia $1.46 billion a year, the ninth highest of all fifty states. The figure represents almost 8 percent of the 2007 state budget of $19.2 billion.
Chuck Fischer, deputy director of the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), said the research mirrors trends in Clayton County in regards to anti-poverty spending for children.
In 1996, Clayton County DFCS spent $1.68 million per year on child care subsidies. Last year, DFCS spent $15 million.
"The need is great," said Fischer. "Last year, we spent $15 million in child care subsidies for 7,400 children. Most of these situations are single-household families.
"Most of our programs in Clayton County are income-based, and having two incomes disqualifies you from most of them," Fischer continued. "I don't think we can mandate marriage, but I think it's safe to say that children are better off in homes where there are two people caring for them."
Dr. Kevin Demmitt, a sociology professor at Clayton State University and author of several textbooks on marriage and family, agreed with the research. "The cost of divorce is often under-reported," said Demmitt. "Because the family is so central to the community, the destruction of the family does have ripple effects.
"It's more about the structure of the family, rather than the quality of the parent," Demmitt continued. "When you have two people, you have more resources. It's not saying that every child raised in a single-parent home will have trouble in life. It is just talking about averages as a whole."
Keith Kilgore, executive director of the Clayton County Marriage and Family Initiative, said in 2006, Clayton County had the fifth-highest unwed birth rate among 128 cities in the country. He said the report will provide the organization with a valuable tool in its efforts to lower divorce rates and increase marriage rates in the county.
"Divorce and unwed child birth has always been more of an ethical or moral issue," said Kilgore. "This is the first-ever report that has put a monetary figure on what the cost of divorce is.
"This is just a new piece of information, never before out there, that we can get out there," Kilgore added. "We can help people realize that, if they choose to have a child out of wedlock, or they choose to get a divorce, here are some of the consequences to those actions."
Chick-fil-A will sponsor a free lunch for visitors to the April 29 discussion.
For more information and to make reservtions, contact Mimi Holland at (770) 478-4472.