The Washington Post has an alarming story yesterday, based on findings of the latest U.S. Census:

“Punctuating a fundamental change in American family life, married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households — a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census.

“As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage, while living together and bearing children out of wedlock.

“‘The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in,’ said Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.”

Luxury item? I wouldn’t have put it quite this way. Marriage is the foundation of a family that produces children who have more chance of growing up to become well educated and well paid than those who grow up in single-parent families.

I recently reviewed Manhattan Institute scholar Kay Hymowitz’s sobering book on the state of marriage. I highly recommend the book and here is part of what I said:

“For Ms. Hymowitz, the two Americas do not divide between the poor who are supposedly in need of government assistance and the rest of us. The division is best defined in another way: between those who see marriage as an indispensable condition of child-rearing and those who don’t. If we are becoming two Americas, it is one America in which parents are married and another in which they are not. The Marriage Gap, as Ms. Hymowitz calls it, appears likely to have a more profound effect on the future of both Americas than the gender gap so lamented by the feminists.

“Despite the ‘unmarriage revolution’ ushered in by the noxious 1960s, the anti-civilization decade, marriage is again flourishing among well-educated women. Today’s educated mothers may work outside the home or not, but they and their husbands are committed to what Ms. Hymowitz calls The Mission — the project of shaping their children into adults (and citizens) who have the requisite skills and self-discipline to prosper in a complex, postindustrialist society.”

Promoting marriage, not entitlements, is the way to save the so-called underclass. I don’t know how you do that, though. Can government promote marriage? It certainly derailed it with well-intended Great Society programs. But can it promote it?

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