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Institute for American Values Institute for Marriage and Public Policy - page 26 / 44

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If each of the 10 million single-mother households in this thought experiment were instead married households, consider two questions:

  • How would the methodology used in this study estimate the taxpayer cost

of family fragmentation?

  • What would be the “true” taxpayer cost of family fragmentation?

Using the methodology of this study, 6 million of the single-mother households (at 60 percent) using this program would no longer use it, which means the cost of family fragmentation would be 6 million multiplied by $5,000, which equals $30 bil- lion. Also, the analysis would assume that the remaining 4 million single-mother households that are now married households would still use the program.

Would $30 billion likely be the “true” costs? We suspect not, because married couples use benefits for which they are income-eligible at a much lower rate than single-parent households: Only 50 percent of initially married households eligible for the program use it. As shown in tables 4–6, single-mother house- holds are far more likely at any given income level to choose to use govern- ment benefits:

  • Single-mother households with incomes less than 200 percent of the poverty line are 2.6 times more likely to receive Food Stamps than married households earning less than 200 percent of the poverty line.

  • Single-mother households with incomes less than 200 percent of the poverty line are 2.9 times more likely to receive cash assistance than mar- ried households earning less than 200 percent of the poverty line.

  • Single-mother households with incomes less than 200 percent of the poverty line are 1.56 times more likely to receive Medicaid than married households earning less than 200 percent of the poverty line.

If we assume that currently single mothers had instead married and that they would use government benefits for which they are eligible at the same rate as other married households (50 percent), then the “true” taxpayer costs of family fragmentation would be $40 billion ($30 billion + 0.5 x 4 million x $5,000). Thus, using the methodology of this study would understate the “true” costs by 33 per- cent using the assumption that married households and single-mother households receive the same average benefit ($5,000 per household in this example), and that single-mother households take up the antipoverty program at a rate twice as large as married households.

The main assumption of this study seems to be a reasonable simplifying assump- tion, because of the much higher take-up rate of antipoverty programs of single- parent households relative to similarly situated married households; this assumption perhaps leads to an underestimate of the taxpayer cost of family fragmentation.

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