The Child Support System – Making the Poor Poorer

When Good Intentions Go Awry

Our country makes child support collection a state issue. With each state having full authority over enforcement measures, they’re free to set punishments for default anywhere from a ding on one’s credit all the way up to (and including) incarceration. With single-parent families left holding the bag (when many of them are struggling), it’s a system that forgets whom it’s supposed to be helping.

The latest heated discussion centers on the disproportionate number of single mothers and their children living at or below the poverty level.

The latest heated discussion centers on the disproportionate number of single mothers and their children living at or below the poverty level.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Johnson declared war. At the beginning of the ongoing War on Poverty a host of programs designed to economically stimulate underprivileged families were put into effect.

Despite those efforts, the number of single-parent families living at or below the poverty level has risen.

Each of your television’s talking heads offers causes and solutions to the problem. With such an emotionally charged subject, the best way to chart our course through this issue is to follow some sage advice.

Just the facts, ma’am.

-Joe Friday

Point 1: More Single Moms Are Raising Kids than Single Dads

Approximately 28% of all children in the U. S. live with only one parent, their mother. Data shows this is true in five out of six cases.

Other children end up in this single-mom situation because they’re born out of wedlock.

Four-million single mothers live below poverty compared to around 400,000 single dads. Translation: for every single dad out there raising his kids, there are 10 women going it alone, too.

Point 2: Single Moms Make 70 Cents on the Dollar Compared to Single Dads

Single moms make a third less than single dads. And around one-third of these women receive regular child support payments. About 15% are working full-time.

Point 3: Gender-Based Discrimination Causes Economic Disparity

I blame Point 2 on Point 3.

A non-biased study found that on average a woman makes 18% less than a man doing her job one year out of college. Furthermore, the stats revealed this gap only increases with time.

At 10 years post-graduation, the wage disparity rises to 31 percent.

Some attempt to counter these facts by attacking the studies and citing the difference in educational and employment choices women make compared to men. As an example, far more women elect to pursue education and employment in generally low-paying fields – teaching for example.

However, even when these differences are normalized and the data corrected, there is still a  7% difference one year after college. The variance reaches twelve percent ten years after college. It cannot be explained or cited to a single cause.

Although career choices make up some of the gap, they do little to explain the problem.

Point 4: Child Support Makes It All Worse

$14-billion are owed in unpaid child support to single moms in this country. That’s not a typo. It really is billion, with a “B.”

Bingo! That must be it, right? Get the deadbeats to pay up and voila! Problem solved!

Not exactly. The total is calculated by rolling up local and state totals into a pile. Like our national debt, the number is thrown out there for shock value.

Yes, there is a large amount of unpaid child support. But here are the facts:

  • Over three-quarters of this bill rests on the shoulders of men making less than ten thousand dollars per year.
  • Only five percent of this bill is owed by fathers making over forty thousand dollars per year.

That’s the real push behind the executive office’s effort to reform the broken child support system.

Our current system puts a burden and continued debt escalation on parents beyond what they can afford. Why, for example, does child support debt continue to grow for parents in prison, where they cannot earn an income?

Our government’s current way of thinking is making financially difficult situations worse, not better.

To Summarize

$14 billion dollars remain unpaid to the child support system. A married household’s bankroll is 75% bigger than that of a divorced person’s household.

Why? Think of a household income as a pie. Some slices go to taxes, some go to house, others to utilities, car payments, clothes, and then finally there are a few slices left over for the adults to use as disposable income.

For most families, these leftover slices are puny at best.

If said pie is made up of all the income going into the house, divide the family into two households. The pie remains the same size. Neither partner received a raise for getting divorced. No prizes were awarded.

If a non-working parent finds employment, the income generally isn’t enough to make enough pie for two households.

In all the complaints about the low income that single parent households have to struggle through, the source of the new, extra money is rarely discussed. Remember there are two households now, instead of one, so more money flows out requiring more money to flow in if the standard of living is not to change.

When it is discussed, the source of the additional money is always from one of two sources; the fathers or the government. The father’s income didn’t change, so how is taking more from them going to make the households better? The facts show that only five percent of the sustainable wage-earning dads in this country are not making their current support obligations. Take more and you’ll see that number grow. The second source is the government. That pie is running on negative slices, but it is an option.

Rather than recommend a solution, like so many other Government programs, that throws money blindly at a problem, this one actually has answers to help focus the help. It is clear now that the real cause of poverty in single parent homes is divorce itself. Two households supported from an income base that previously supported one results in two households operating at a lower standard of living.

The mathematical economic reality makes this fact very easy to follow. If divorce clearly results in a lower standard of living, especially for women, why are the vast majority of divorces initiated by women as no-fault divorces? It must mean that the reality of post-divorce life for them was better than the life they were living while married. In that case, is Government support really necessary? Remember, Government support really means your tax dollars.

  • Supporting and welfare for our neighbors has strong roots in America, long before it received the name welfare.
  • As our country expanded, lending a helping hand to neighbors in need was an underlying principle for centuries.
  • America leads the world in charitable giving today.

Why, though, would we give to those who made the informed choice to alter their lifestyle?

There are plenty of single parents, mostly mothers that are in their present struggling financial situation because of terrible marriages that resulted in fault-based divorces.

In those cases, we should extend the helping hand.

But if a reasonable adult recognized the reality of divorce and the consequences it would have to their standard of living and made the informed decision to divorce, there is no moral call to raise their standard back to pre-divorce levels if the cause of the divorce was unhappiness or irreconcilable differences.

There are other solutions available to these divorcing couples, such as time, savings, education, and employment all prior to divorce to allow for a better start.

The alarming rhetoric should stop and allow adults to live with their decisions while focusing our limited tax dollars on those that truly are in need because of events beyond their control.


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