April 5, 2012

In his excellent March 30 Washington Forum piece, “Decisions that doom the future,” Ron Haskins noted a strong correlation between young Americans’ economic failure and decisions regarding education, work and marriage.

The decline in marriage and the rise in the number of children born to unmarried mothers are concentrated among lower-income families. One reason is that lower-income couples will often lose money if they get married. Many federal benefits such as food stamps and the earned income tax credit phase out as income rises. Under federal law, if two individuals earning the minimum wage choose to marry, combining their incomes results in the loss of some $7,000 in federal benefits. The result: Fewer marriages, more births outside marriage and reduced prospects for rising into the middle class.

We need to remove the disincentives the federal government puts in the way of marriage.

Thomas E. Petri, Washington

The writer, a Republican from Wisconsin’s 6th District, is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.