EDITORIAL: Poverty preventive

The correlation between marriage and economic stability has been well established in recent years, and a new study only underscores the point.

The Census Bureau's American Community Survey found that 29 percent of all new mothers in the United States are unmarried. Of those, half lived in poverty with their children, while only 12 percent of married mothers are poor.

A significant drop in teenage pregnancy over the last decade has been rightly hailed as good news, but it shouldn't overshadow the steadily rising number of children born to unmarried parents of any age. That increase, while especially dramatic among African-Americans, is evident across racial lines.

More than one-third of all children in the United States are born out of wedlock. In Mississippi, it's close to half at 47 percent. Those children face a much higher likelihood of growing up in poverty, dropping out of school, and engaging in criminal behavior than do children who live with married parents.

These essential facts alone are sufficient justification for government at all levels to adopt policies that encourage marriage and remove disincentives to it.

Mississippi and Louisiana are neck-and-neck for the state with the most children born to unwed mothers. It's no coincidence that a high poverty rate hinders progress in both states.

Thirty-one percent of Mississippi's children live in poverty, the highest of any state in 2004 rankings. That's a statistic this state should be doing everything in its power to eliminate.

Reversing the cycle of poverty begins with education, and Mississippi's status as virtually alone among the states in not funding pre-kindergarten learning must change to give pre-schoolers living in poverty a fighting chance to be on a level with their peers. But the social conditions that help perpetuate poverty can't be brushed aside, and of those the most critical is the preponderance of unmarried mothers.

Marriage and childbirth are at once intensely personal and broadly social circumstances. Contrary to increasingly popular belief, choices in both areas have significant social consequences for good or ill. They are not purely private matters. Re-establishing the connection between marriage and childbirth is one of the most important social, economic and humanitarian issues of our time.

It will take a concerted effort by community groups, religious organizations and government policymakers to reverse the tide. The trends are discouraging, but inaction isn't an option.

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