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Marriage in crisis: how a Republican tax proposal could exacerbate declining rates

Marriage in America is under threat, with new statistics from the Pew Research Center indicating that a record-breaking 25% of 40-year-olds had never been married as of 2021. This is a sharp increase from the mere 6% of unmarried 40-year-olds in 1980, highlighting the declining appeal of marriage in recent decades. The data also reveals that the retreat from marriage disproportionately affects minorities, the working class, and the economically disadvantaged, leading to relational instability.

Surprisingly, despite these troubling trends, a new tax proposal by Republicans in the U.S. House, the “Tax Cuts for Working Families Act,” appears to further undermine the institution of marriage. Recently passed by the House Ways and Means Committee, this bill seems to penalize marriage among the working class while incentivizing cohabitation, contrary to what one would expect from family-supportive policies during a time of declining marriage rates.

Adding to the concerns, the bill neglects to extend the federal child tax credit, which was doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 per child under the Trump administration. This increase, which has been a significant financial help for many families, is scheduled to expire in 2025, and this legislation does nothing to prevent this. Instead, it proposes to raise the standard deduction for all households, a move that is likely to benefit wealthier households more than middle- and working-class families who are in greater need.

Further exacerbating the issue, this revised standard deduction introduces new marriage penalties and discourages marriage. As pointed out by Ramesh Ponnuru in the Washington Post, this proposal would result in higher taxes for two working individuals with children if they decide to marry.

However, there are alternative paths forward. A number of Senate Republicans, including Marco Rubio, Marsha Blackburn, Mike Lee, and J.D. Vance, have acknowledged the fragile state of American families and marriages in the current climate. Rubio, for instance, has proposed a policy in the Harvard Law School Journal on Legislation to remove marriage penalties from the federal tax code and expand the federal child tax credit. This approach aligns more closely with the Republican Party’s family-oriented ethos and should be considered as a more viable alternative for future GOP House proposals. The last thing America needs is legislation that further undermines the institution of marriage.