Two quick reactions to Kevin Drum’s mostly critical piece on Marco Rubio’s recent poverty plan (or what I’ve decided to more accurately call his Big-Ass Block Grant plan).

First, on wage subsidies, Drum says:

Wage subsidies show some promise, but they're untested and extremely sensitive to program design. We'll know how serious Rubio is about this stuff based on how much thought he ends up putting into his final proposal.


Actually, we have plenty of research on wage subsidies (results are relatively mixed). One way to measure Rubio’s seriousness about wage subsidies would be to see if he would support extending and further fine-tuning the temporary wage subsidy program created as part of the Recovery Act. For more on that program, see research by MDRC and the Economic Mobility Corporation.

Second, on marriage, Drum says:

"...I think we should encourage marriage. In fact, I wish this were a more popular notion among the educated liberal class, which pretty clearly thinks marriage is a great thing but is often skittish about "imposing" its values on others. ...generally speaking, marriage has a ton of benefits: for the couple itself, for their children, and for society... That said, I'm pretty skeptical that the government should be in the business of encouraging or discouraging marriage, and I'm even more skeptical that offering a few more or a few less dollars in welfare programs is likely to have any effect anyway."

This leaves me somewhat confused. If “we should encourage marriage” because it has “tons of benefits”, then why shouldn’t government be in the business of encouraging it?

A more sensible and inclusive progressive position would be that we, including government, should encourage and support healthy and stable adult marriages and unmarried partnerships. And we should also support healthy and stable parent-child relationships, regardless of the structure of the parents’ relationships. In general, the focus should be on the quality of bonds, rather than on simply increasing the quantity of the ones that take a particular legal form.

The reality is that most couples that marry today live together as unmarried partners before marrying. This is a positive development. Among other things, it has probably contributed the increased stability of the marriages of what Drum calls the educated liberal class. But we’ve done relatively little (in official statistics or policy, for example) to acknowledge the social normalization of unmarried partnerships.