Create a marriage bonus, not a tax Counter-productive: Shoring up marriages is good for the country.

April 30, 1996

WITH THE APRIL 15 filing deadline, many American couples discovered again that taking on a legal commitment to each other can cost dearly at tax time.

The "marriage penalty" doesn't hit every couple, but why should it hit any? Tax policy has profound social consequences, and the effects of failing marriages -- and of the failure of parents to marry -- are taking a heavy toll at all levels of society.

The "marriage tax" is felt largely by two-income couples, increasing their tax burden beyond what it would be if they remained single. For some families, the penalty can reach thousands of dollars a year, and it seems to be bigger when couples have roughly the same income. With increasing numbers of families depending on two workers, this kind of punitive tax policy deserves a closer look by public officials.

The marriage penalty is not the only tax policy detrimental to families. Tax exemptions for children and other dependents have steadily fallen in value. Today, the exemption is worth less than one-third its value to families in 1948.

The irony is that government at all levels is spending untold amounts of money to compensate for the breakdown of families -- which, all too often, results in the absence of fathers from the home. Marriage may not be a panacea for all social ills, but it is abundantly clear that the erosion of stable, committed, two-parent households has contributed significantly to any number of social problems.

Without healthy families, American society is less stable, children are less likely to do well in school and they are more likely to get in trouble with the law. Not every marriage can be called strong and healthy, of course, but at least couples made a commitment to each other have more at stake in their relationship -- and, thus, can offer far more stability to their children. They deserve the support of government, not penalties.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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