Wilcox and Randolph explore how current welfare policy creates a “marriage penalty” for the working class.

“I continue to be amazed by the trajectory difference between my married versus unmarried friends,” a University of Virginia graduate student from Arkansas recently wrote to Brad Wilcox. “I keep thinking of my high-school classmates who are basically trapped by Medicaid and other income-based programs, never to get married.”

He is on to something, and research backs him up. This country’s public policies — especially our tax and welfare policies — often penalize marriage, locking couples out of marriage and trapping too many people in poverty. In fact, marriage penalties, which generally fall hardest on working-class families in the lower half of our income distribution, can end up robbing working-class families of between 10 percent and 30 percent of their real income. One study found that a working-class couple with two children in Arkansas stood to lose 32 percent of their real income if they married.

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