How Marriage Fights Poverty  

With various marriage debates back in the news, one thing that I think is worth clarifying is that as conservatives say, marriage is one of the most effective anti-poverty tools around. What conservatives tend not to say is that this largely happens through the power of pure statistical aggregation.

Consider the federal poverty line for a single parent with one child—$15,510. If you work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year at $7.25 an hour, you’re left with just $14,500, and your little household is poor. But if a full-time minimum-wage worker with one kid marries a second full-time minimum-wage worker with one kid, then they have a combined income of $29,000, which puts them well above the federal poverty line for a family of four, which is only $23,550. In fact, you could add an additional kid and the five-person household still wouldn’t be poor.

And good for them. But nobody is actually earning more money this way. The federal poverty line formula simply stipulates that one person needs at least $11,490 to not count as poor, and then each additional household member needs $4,020.