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Algernon Austin Headshot

Rick Santorum Needs to Join Occupy Wall Street

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RICK SANTORUM
AP

Social conservatives, like Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, have looked just about everywhere for enemies to heterosexual marriage, but they have missed one place: the American economy. One important factor behind the decline of marriage in America is increasing economic inequality. The epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have shown quite persuasively that highly unequal societies are more dysfunctional societies. More unequal societies do worse on a variety of measures, including health, education, violence and child well-being. New research even suggests that inequality is a drag on economic growth.

In the United States, economic inequality is also driving down marriage rates. Men who experience worse economic circumstances -- lower earnings, unemployment, and less wealth -- are less likely to marry, or, if they do marry, to stay married. For the past three decades, policymakers have favored policies that have benefitted economic elites at the expense of average working men. By forcing more and more men into worse economic circumstances, these polices have also pushed down American marriage rates.

Compared to Europeans, Americans are very pro-marriage, as Pew Social and Demographic Trends has shown. The American marriage rate is significantly higher than the marriage rate in the European Union. Large shares of single Americans of all races and classes want to marry. Pew finds that the non-college-educated want to marry as much as the college-educated, and blacks want to marry as much as whites. The problem is that people who are economically insecure are less likely to marry or stay married.

We can document that over the past three decades, the American economy has experienced substantial declines in the share of good jobs -- jobs that would provide enough in wages to support a family and that also provide health insurance and a retirement plan. Men have been hit the hardest by this decline as America's manufacturing jobs have been exported overseas and as America's unionization rates fell.

This decline in good jobs was not the inevitable result of globalization. German businesses, in partnership with their unions, responded to globalization by developing a smarter and stronger manufacturing sector. By doing this, they preserved high-wage jobs in their economy, and now, arguably, Germany has the strongest economy in the West. In the United States, the response to globalization has been to export jobs and to become increasingly hostile to unions. The result is that we have seen a decline in good jobs, particularly in the male-dominated manufacturing fields.

Offshoring jobs and destroying unions can be great for corporate profits, but they are detrimental to American workers. As larger shares of men find themselves in low-paying and insecure jobs or without jobs, fewer of them marry.

Rick Santorum and other family-values conservatives say that they want to protect marriage, but if they truly do, they need to support policies to reduce economic inequality in America. Santorum is proud of his support of President George W. Bush's tax cuts, but those tax cuts did not lead to economic growth. In fact, the business cycle spanning the Bush years was the worst since World War II. The rich did well, but no one else. Between 2000 and 2007, all the growth in income went to the top 10 percent.

A good jobs agenda for America is, in fact, a pro-marriage agenda for America. Good jobs will increase the economic security of average Americans. If we increase the economic security of average Americans, we will increase the likelihood that they will marry and stay married. A good jobs agenda will require many changes in policy priorities. One small first step is to recognize that what is best for the quarterly profits of a U.S.-headquartered multinational corporation is not necessarily what is best for the happiness and well-being of the American people.

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