The Importance of Family Formation

James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, once said, “To the institution of marriage the true origin of society must be traced.” The results of stable families throughout the years have been the foundation of our country’s formation. Unfortunately today, as the economy is worsening, social and cultural norms are crumbling, and political parties are finding it more difficult to find common ground on multiple issues, many can point to the destruction of the family as the culprit.

Since society rests on a foundation that is rooted in healthy relationships, it is imperative that healthy families be championed. To reiterate this point, recently while speaking at the 2015 Conservative Policy Summit, hosted by The Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action for America, Senator Mike Lee stated, “The family is the first and most important institution of our society – and the foundation of American exceptionalism.”

Evidence proves that children benefit from living in a stable home with both of their parents. Children that grow up in a two-parent household perform better than children who grow up in a single parent home. Children raised by a single parent are more likely to have lower educational achievement, increased drug use, and more emotional troubles.

One reason children benefit from living with their married parents is because of the greater financial stability. There is a strong correlation between marriage and financial well-being, and according to a 2012 study by the Heritage Foundation, “In Georgia, married couples with children are 78 percent less likely to be poor than non-married families with the same level of education.”

But, another important reason to promote healthy families is to provide the children with the nurturing that is needed from a mother and father in the same home. A report produced by Princeton University and Brookings Institution found that in addition to the link with child poverty, the increases in couples postponing marriage, cohabiting, divorcing, and having children outside of marriage “appear to be depriving children of such documented benefits of marriage as better physical and emotional health and greater socioeconomic attachment.

A 2008 study estimated that American taxpayers pay $112 billion every year due to the social costs of family fragmentation. Georgia’s divorce rate of 11.4 percent in 2012 was higher than the marriage rate of 6.5 percent.

In order to combat these trends, Georgia Center for Opportunity is launching a Healthy Families Initiative. This community-based initiative focuses on finding ways to encourage healthy relationships, strong marriages, and stable families. Since many individuals lack the skills needed to have a lasting relationship, the initiative will emphasize relationship education. It will also include a public campaign to communicate the importance of marriage.

Family is the institution best suited to help individuals move from dependency to self-sufficiency, so by increasing the number of healthy and stable families, we’re also increasing the likelihood that individuals will succeed in living independent lives.

If you would like to learn more about how marriage impacts economic opportunity and what can be done to change the trends, you can join GCO on December 1st for a discussion with Dr. Brad Wilcox (Senior Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia).

The Odds are Not in Georgia’s Favor

In March of 2015 state Rep. Ron Stephens (R- Savannah) introduced legislation that would allow six casinos into Georgia’s borders. While the legislation did not gain traction in the 2015 session, there is a renewed and aggressive effort by casino interests to bring gambling to Georgia through a ballot – by changing the Georgia State Constitution, which currently bars nearly all gambling.

Some believe that by having its own casinos Georgia will recover money currently going out of state. They also project that 3,500 jobs will be created and significant new revenue will be provided for the HOPE scholarship. At face value, this seems like a win-win for Georgia; however, the economic costs that accompany gambling will do more harm than the new jobs and HOPE funding will do good.

Gambling addictions create problems for individuals, their families and, by extension, society at large. Many people in Georgia are already being affected by the economic and social challenges that are brought on with gambling. With several casinos within driving distance, many have chosen to go out of state to gamble with their money. Some have returned to Georgia with a gambling addiction. According to the Georgia Council on Problem Gambling, “The hidden social and economic costs of gambling addiction in Georgia is $1,200 annually per gambler, while problem gambling costs the state $715 per gambler. Total costs: over $357 million annually.” This is the price tag on gambling already plaguing the state and that’s before Georgia even has its own casinos.

Bankruptcy is common among gambling addicts, with a national average of 20-30 percent of addicts filing for bankruptcy. According to the National Bankruptcy Research Center in July of 2013, Georgia had the second highest amount of people filing for bankruptcy. By allowing casinos to come into the state, more people will fall victim to a gambling addiction, which will increase their odds of filing for bankruptcy. The Georgia Council on Problem Gambling found that each bankruptcy filing costs creditors an average $39,000.

The impact to families of problem gambling can be catastrophic. Approximately 90 percent of pathological gamblers use family savings to continue their addiction. The Georgia Council on Problem Gambling found “over 60 percent of pathological gamblers reported borrowing money from friends/relatives to avoid credit problems; while 20 percent borrowed money from loan sharks.” Money problems are notorious for adding stress to families; gambling addiction magnifies and exacerbates this source of conflict in families. Not surprising, then, is the fact that families face a greater risk of suffering from a divorce when one of the spouses has a gambling addiction. While non-gamblers have a divorce rate of 18.2 percent, the divorce rate for pathological gamblers is a staggering 53.5 percent.

While the promises of jobs and HOPE scholarship funding sound appealing, the costs of bringing casinos to Georgia – in terms of the human suffering they will cause – far outweigh any potential benefit they will have.