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Family decay, single moms get blame for poverty from GOP

The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty inspired many Republicans to bash safety net programs, but some decided to blame single mothers and "family decay."
Monique Henderson helps her son, Geramiah, 8, with his homework after school in Camp Springs, MD, Oct. 15, 2013.
Monique Henderson helps her son, Geramiah, 8, with his homework after school in Camp Springs, MD, Oct. 15, 2013.

The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty inspired many Republicans to bash safety net programs, but some used the opportunity to blame single mothers and "family decay."

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert took to the House floor for an impassioned speech on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's declaration, saying he was inspired to run for Congress in order to fight against single mothers abusing welfare programs. 

“If it weren’t for the policies in this War on Poverty declared 50 years ago, it may well be that I would not have ever run for Congress,” Gohmert said Thursday night on the House floor. “Because what got me thinking about it first as a state district judge back in Texas was seeing more and more young women, single women coming before me, single moms, charged with welfare fraud.”

"I heard the story over and over and over, how as a young girl in high school she was bored with high school and someone suggested, 'Well, why don't you just drop out of high school and have a baby and then the government will send you a check?'" he continued.  

“One women had had 15 kids, didn’t even know where they all were, that was the most that I ever dealt with,” Gohmert added. “It began to really eat away with me that in the '60s the federal government, desiring to help poor moms who were dealing with deadbeat dads that weren't helping, decided, ‘We’ll help, we’ll give a check for every child you can have out of wedlock.’”

For Rep. Michele Bachmann, her criticism of single parents and split families took the form of a blog post reflecting on the War on Poverty, in which she again blamed the government for incentivizing the problem. 

"One of the saddest results of these last fifty years has been the decay of the American family, as the percentage of children born out of wedlock has risen from 6% to 41%," she wrote. "When government has policies that induce people to either not get married or to bear a child out of wedlock, poverty persists."

"Let’s use the lessons of the past fifty years and start working to reassert the importance of family and the work ethic —not government programs and dependency —as a solution to lift more people out of poverty," she added. 

Sen. Marco Rubio made child rearing out of wedlock a focus of his big poverty speech on Wednesday as well.  

"The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82%. But it isn't a government spending program. It's called marriage," he said. "Fifty years ago, today, when the War on Poverty was launched, 93% of children born in the United States were born to married parents. By 2010 that number had plummeted to 60%. It should not surprise us that 71% of poor families with children are not headed by a married couple." 

This is hardly a new idea within the Republican party. It was more than two decades ago when Vice President Dan Quayle railed against fictional TV journalist Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock, which he said "mock[ed] the importance of fathers." 

Shortly later, then-Senate candidate Rick Santorum took those single mothers to task destroying the fabric of America. 

"Most people agree a continuation of the current [welfare] system will be the ruination of this country," Santorum said in 1994, according to Mother Jones. "We are seeing it. We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms."

"What we have is moms raising children in single-parent households simply breeding more criminals," he said during another event that year. 

Statistics do show a significant percentage of single mothers live in poverty, but there is new evidence that marriage may not be the anti-poverty silver bullet that some Republicans seem to portray it as. New research released by the non-profit and non-partisan Council on Contemporary Families this week concluded that "promoting marriage is not the answer to the problems facing single mothers and their children."

"We are continuing to spend money on … these healthy-marriage initiatives, and I think the evidence is now clear that these are not effective policies," Kristi Williams, an associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University who initiated the research, told CNBC. "So, it's time to start thinking about spending that money in a way that's more likely to help single mothers and their children."