Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Children’s Defense Fund recently declared war on child poverty—despite the fact that we’re already 50 years and $20 trillion into a War on Poverty that hasn’t achieved its goals.

What can be done to help poor children break through the cycle of poverty that many of them are born into? Public policy can be redirected to encourage marriage, and well-equipped Americans can provide hands-on care in poor communities.

Marriage is the greatest weapon against child poverty. Children born to single mothers are six times more likely to live in poverty than children born to married parents. In this respect, the odds for many children today look bleak. Over 40 percent of all children are born outside marriage, and the majority of teens don’t live in intact families.

Marriage protects against poverty among all education levels. For example, if a high school graduate is the head of a married household with kids, that family is 76 percent less likely to be poor than a non-married family with exactly the same education level. Furthermore, being married has a similar effect in reducing poverty as adding another five to six years to a parent’s education. Overall, marriage shrinks the probability of child poverty by 82 percent.

To fight child poverty, policymakers must strengthen marriage and discourage unwed births. Right now, many welfare programs actually penalize low-income couples who marry. These types of marriage penalties should be reduced.

Many generous churches and community groups can help individuals and couples form and maintain lasting marriage relationships. Numerous nonprofit organizations realize that building a healthy marriage culture is a vital aspect of seeking the welfare of their communities, and civil society has many organizations that are effectively helping impoverished families. Policies should be framed to let the fruitful efforts of these groups flourish even more.

Family disintegration, lack of education, and counterproductive welfare incentives all contribute to child poverty. Rebuilding a strong marriage culture should be at the forefront of our efforts to fight poverty. Research suggests that the poor already aspire to have strong marriages. Efforts should be made at every level of society to help them achieve this goal, recognizing that doing so will help give children the greatest opportunity to avoid poverty and thrive.