Washington D.C. is one of the least married cities in America. Not coincidentally, it is also one of the poorest, especially if we look at poor children. This has led to an unusual alliance in Congress to create incentives for marriage and savings in the District of Columbia. Sen. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a liberal Democrat from the District of Columbia, are working together to add Marriage Development Accounts to the D.C. appropriations bill. The MDAs would give poor married couples $3 for each $1 they put in a special savings account, up to a total of $12,000 per year.
D.C.’s low marriage rate has many causes, both material and cultural. Never an industrial city, the District has lost most of what little manufacturing base it had. It has a number of jobs at the top of the education scale, and some service jobs (serving the educated) at the bottom, but few family-supporting jobs for the low-skilled. D.C. is also one of the blackest cities in America, and African-Americans have low marriages rates apart from their jobs and incomes. As Rep. Norton said, "marriage is going out of style in whole sections of the black community."
Still, incentives do work for the middle of the population. You get more of what you pay more for. Couples, especially couples with children, who are planning to marry “someday” would be more likely to do so now if they could reap an additional $9,000 per year for doing so. And getting married would, for most such couples, strengthen their ties to one another. Marriage makes most people act married, in a way that cohabiting with a vague hope of marriage does not.
Investing in marriage is a governmental program most likely to pay for itself, and then some, both financially and in citizenship.