Topeka — Pushing marriage to end poverty is simplistic and potentially dangerous, Kansas Democratic Party Chair Joan Wagnon said Thursday.
Wagnon’s comments were made in response to remarks by a speaker invited to child poverty meetings set up by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican.
That speaker, Robert Rector, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has encouraged single mothers to get married as a way to get out of poverty. He has said he doesn’t want to force anyone to get married, but said the decline of marriage is the strongest factor leading to poverty.
In July, Rector was co-author of a study that said most Americans living in poverty lead comfortable lives with a steady supply of food, medical care, air conditioning, cable TV and other modern amenities.
“Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table. Their living standards are far different from the images of dire deprivation promoted by activists and the mainstream media,” the study said.
On Wednesday, a protestor was arrested at Brownback’s child poverty meeting in Wichita after Rector spoke. Several Occupy Wichita members shouted during the meeting that Brownback’s policies, such as his record cut in base state aid to public schools, were hurting children and women.
On Monday, at a child poverty meeting in Kansas City, Kan., several groups said Brownback should focus more on education and health care to help poor children rather than marriage.
On Thursday, Wagnon said, “Marriage can be wonderful, but it can also be horrific.”
Wagnon said when she worked for the YWCA in Topeka in the 1970s, she counseled hundreds of women who were victims of domestic violence.
“I learned that living in a family where one parent beats the other parent or beats both mother and child is far more destructive to a daughter or son than living in a single-parent household, even one that struggles to make the rent every month,” Wagnon said.
Wagnon added, “Ending childhood poverty is a laudable objective, but we can only reach that goal by creating more jobs, improving our schools and guaranteeing high-quality and affordable childcare, among other things. I applaud the idea of encouraging marriage, but complex problems like poverty require real solutions.”
The governor’s spokeswoman, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, said Brownback knows that solutions to poverty will be multi-faceted.
“He is not advocating that people remain in an unhealthy marriage,” she said.
Brownback has said that he wants the meetings to produce recommendations on ways to reduce the number of children in poverty.
“The goal of the town hall meetings is to gather insights and strategies to reduce childhood poverty, increase childhood educational outcomes and decrease child abuse and neglect,” he said.