When we think of weddings, we imagine a soft-flowing white gown, enormous arrangements of vibrant, sweet-smelling flowers, and an elegant reception to end the evening. Then again, as the saying goes, “If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not.” Most couples expect the aggravations, frustrations, and irritations of planning their wedding, but many overlook, and sometimes do not think about, the “marriage penalty.”
What exactly is the “marriage penalty?” To begin with, the penalty punishes the average double-income couple. For example, a single person taxed in 2003 would be taxed as follows: the first $7,000 of taxable income would be taxed at 10% ($700), the next $21,400 at 15% ($3,210), the next $40,400 at 25% ($10,100), and the rest at a climbing rate of 28%, 33%, 35%, etc (SmartMoney.com, 2003). As a couple, the federal government would tax both incomes as one. Therefore, taxation before the wedding would be lower than taxation after the wedding. As a result, many couples pay more taxes after marriage than before marriage. According to Smartmoney.com, after paying taxes owed to the federal government, state and municipalities, Social Security and Medicare, couples may end up bringing home 60% or less of the second salary. Are wedding bells still blissfully ringing or do the notes sound a little sour? For most couples, who make a healthy living, the marriage penalty, in contrast to the benefits of being single; tend to be a factor in their decision to cohabitate or put off marriage. But, before a person abandons his/her dream of marital bliss and discovers a dark, empty corner to stash the wedding dress, there are important reasons to consider.
Many couples who cohabitate, without the possibility of marriage, are more likely to be depressed, suffer physical and sexual abuse, have lower levels of sexual faithfulness and satisfaction in their relationship (National Marriage Project,1999). Children of cohabiters are more likely to “accept” pre-marital sex and promiscuous behavior as the norm. According to Clarence Page of the Washington Times (2002), children of cohabitating parents in comparison to children of married parents are more likely to drop out of school, three times as likely to get pregnant as teenagers, and twenty-two times more likely to be incarcerated. As a result, lack of support, love, and care within the main parental relationship has a trickle-down effect on their relationship with their children, while their behavior shapes their children’s attitudes.
With evidence in favor of marriages, why does the government still slap couples in the face with the marriage penalty? Presently, the Bush administration has reduced the marriage penalty. Under President Bush’s tax relief, couples who file jointly will be taxed 10% of $12,000 of taxable income; the next $45,200 will be taxed at 15%, etc. Why only a reduction? Why not completely eliminate the penalty? Many Democrats, including former President Clinton, believe that drastically eradicating the penalty will cost the government about $292 billion over 10 years (PublicAgenda.org, 2000). With the need of social programs on the rise, the Bush administration is taking the heat from many left leaning liberals. However, the rise in need for social programs may stem from the break-up of the solid, two-parent family, and as a result, societal traditions and values that helps shape and mold younger generations into good decision-makers become obscured. Theodora Ooms of the Resource Center on Couples and Marriage Policy (2002), ties this cycle of poverty and family together by stating one of the major causes of the retreat from marriage among the poor and the rise of need in aid is the expansion of welfare programs that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. Since these programs were targeted on giving assistance to single-parent families, it is argued that the government was stepping in to take the place of fathers, undermining their responsibility to provide for their families and creating financial incentives to break up or discourage marriage on the theory that “you get more of what you subsidize (http://www.clasp.org/Pubs/familyformation/Strengthening).”
How can society solve a problem if it avoids the source of the problem? Some social programs are planned with good intentions but sometimes are idealistic and impractical. In many situations all funds and resources are concentrated and poured into what seemed at the time to be the easiest solution, but not necessarily the best solution. Those who benefit from social programs are also attacking this issue, fearing cutbacks or the complete loss of these benefits. Countering this argument, many think all or most social programs should only be temporary; having a large number of Americans depending permanently on social programs is in itself a problem (www.nwaonline.net/pdfarchive/2000/August/06/8-6-00%20D1.pdf). Billions of dollars are wasted on countless inefficient and ineffective programs and throwing money at the problem will not make it go away.
The marriage penalty is an unfair tax policy for several reasons. It is unjust to impose different tax burdens on married couples. Moreover, it is unwise for politicians to use the tax code to subsidize or penalize behavior, particularly when such policies send counterproductive messages about marriage and family. To improve society in its entirety, the public must encourage, support, and promote good parenting skills and stable family structures. The role of our government is to enhance our lifestyles; not hinder it by imposing ridiculous taxes. The government’s support of the “marriage penalty” contradicts its purpose and all that it stands for: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.