The Tulsa World reports on a state legislative panel’s hearing yesterday on reducing divorce and births to unwed parents. I know the author isn’t responsible for writing the headline, but the headline editor definitely captured the spirit of the article with the headline “Broken Families Cost Taxpayers.”
So that I don’t bury the lede here, let me just state my complaint up front: in Oklahoma (and in most places), among the most effective ways to draw the public’s scorn is to say something “costs taxpayers.” I remember the report on that Defense Department toilet (which turned out to be an astronaut toilet) costing millions of dollars to procure. “Toilets Cost Taxpayers Millions”, or some variation on that theme, the evening newscasters screamed. And sure enough, the public was appropriately scornful of toilets and the Defense Department. So what happens when you label your story “Broken Families Cost Taxpayers”? You draw scorn upon “broken” families.
Moreover, the headline implies that our concern over “broken” families should be rooted in its cost to taxpayers rather than in compassion for the family members themselves. It’s commonplace now to see economic arguments replace what used to be ethical issues (by which I mean a competing conception of the good), ranging from the President’s urge to “bend the cost curve” on healthcare to organizations like the Partnership for America’s Economic Success (which argues for greater early childhood investments), to the House hearing reported on today.
Finally, the reporter writes, “slightly more than 60 percent of all Oklahoma births that year  were funded by Medicaid.” Now that may be technically true, but the wording implies that births are a sort of government program. We could reduce our appropriations to them and then there’d be fewer births. It’s as if there’s something wrong with a government that supports its children at their most vulnerable.
Now, it can’t be denied that single-parent households are at much greater risk for economic insecurity and, thus, more likely to be eligible for government safety net programs. (more…)