We just got more bad news about marriage.
A record-high 25% of 40-year-olds in the United States were never married in 2021, according to sobering new statistics from the Pew Research Center. That statistic compares to just 6% of never-married 40-year-olds in 1980, underscoring marriage’s falling fortunes in recent decades.
Digging further into the Pew data reveals that this retreat from marriage and family life has hit vulnerable populations the hardest: minorities, the working class, and poor Americans. The upper classes continue to marry, forge stable unions, and enjoy a reasonably happy family life, while the lower classes drift into a world of relational chaos.
Against the backdrop of this bad news, a new tax proposal put forward by Republicans in the U.S. House would further erode and undermine the institutions of marriage and the family.
The “Tax Cuts for Working Families Act,” which recently passed the House Ways and Means Committee headed by Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO), inexplicably penalizes marriage among the working class and subsidizes cohabitation — the exact opposite of what family-friendly policies should do in a day and age when marriage is in trouble.
The legislation also fails to extend the federal child tax credit. The value of the credit doubled — from $1,000 to $2,000 per child — under former President Donald Trump, but that increase is set to expire at the end of 2025. Remarkably, the bill in question does nothing to lock in the credit’s current value for families. For a proposal that purports to be about helping families financially, this is a serious miss.
Rather than explore ways to shore up the credit to support families in their key child-rearing years, the Tax Cuts for Working Families Act would simply increase the standard deduction for all households — $2,000 for singles, $3,000 for heads of household, and $4,000 for married couples. Most of the law’s benefits would flow to affluent households rather than to the middle- and working-class families who need the most help.
What’s worse, the way this revision of the standard deduction is set up imposes new marriage penalties and encourages couples to cohabit rather than tie the knot. As Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out in the Washington Post, under the proposal “two working people would pay more in taxes if they got married, at least if they have kids.”
As Patrick T. Brown of the Ethics and Public Policy Center noted, Republicans who trumpet their commitment to the family could at least make sure their family bill doesn’t penalize our nation’s most fundamental institution: marriage.
Is there a better way forward? Thankfully, there is a family-friendly contingent among congressional Republicans in the Senate, led by figures such as Sens. Marco Rubio, Marsha Blackburn, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee, and J.D. Vance. These lawmakers recognize how profoundly fragile American families and marriages are in our contemporary climate.
For his part, Rubio just put forth a set of policy proposals in the Harvard Law School Journal on Legislation that would work to eliminate marriage penalties in the federal tax code and further expand the federal child tax credit. For one, Rubio points out that a cohabiting couple with two children earning a combined $40,000 yearly wage currently faces an approximately $3,000 penalty in the Earned Income Tax Credit by marrying. “At a minimum, th
is should be changed so the couple receives the same amount in EITC after marriage as it did beforehand,” Rubio writes.
As for the child tax credit, Rubio proposes taking the amount to $3,500 for each child — and $4,500 for every child under six. Rubio’s approach is much more consistent with the idea that the Republican Party is the “Parents’ Party” than this new House plan. Let’s hope that future proposals to help families from the GOP House line up with the spirit of Rubio’s proposals, rather than that of the Tax Cuts for Working Families Act.
After all, the last thing America needs is a new law that lands yet another blow on marriage.