A Washington Post editorial today criticized the “feminist left” for not embracing President Bush’s welfare reauthorization plan that would include $300 million for state programs promoting marriage as a means of ending poverty. Specifically, the editorial blasts feminists for not considering marriage as a method of decreasing the number of children in single-parent homes living in poverty. The editorial asks, “Why not find out whether helping mothers – and fathers – tackle that challenging task of getting and staying married could help families find their way out of poverty?” According to Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal, “The only way out of poverty is through increasing incomes. The difference between poor and rich is money.” Smeal continued, “The government can help poor people find and keep better jobs and better wages through programs increasing minimum wage, or better yet, by adopting a living wage standard, occupational training and education, etc. The Bush program ignores the fact that there are not enough high paying jobs for men and women, especially minorities and the young.”
The editorial also suggests that feminists are showing too much concern for women who may be forced into abusive marriages as a result of the proposed initiative. “[I]t is wrong to suggest that any marriage promotion is equivalent to pushing women into abusive marriages. The Bush document specifically seeks to encourage “healthy marriage.'” At issue, however, are not “healthy” marriages. According to NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF) as many as 60 percent of women receiving welfare have been victims of domestic violence, versus 22 percent of women in the general population. In the last year alone, as many as 30 percent of female welfare recipients reported abuse. Domestic violence contributes to poverty. Up to 50 percent of women who were victims of domestic violence lose their jobs because of the abuse. “The Bush Administration would do better if it would promote programs to reduce domestic violence and living wages. Let Cupid take care of marriage.”
From the feminist perspective, when it comes to welfare, the Bush Administration should focus solely on reducing poverty, not on encouraging one particular lifestyle. Importantly, feminists are not the only people dissatisfied with the Bush proposal. According to a recent poll, only 2 percent of the public set promoting marriage as a current goal for the welfare system, and only 3 percent thought it should be a future goal.