Opinion

OPINION: Was Elizabeth Warren Right When She Expressed Alarm At Two-Income Households?

Terry Schilling American Principles Project

Fox News host Tucker Carlson generated some early 2019 media buzz with his first daily monologue of the year, castigating the elites of both political parties for their failures to recognize and react to the biggest crisis facing America today: the collapse of marriage and the family. “Our leaders don’t care. They don’t even bother to understand our problems,” he said.

However, he added an important caveat. One well-known political leader has expressed concern on this issue, though she’s one who might surprise conservatives: the stalwart liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

In particular, Carlson drew attention to a largely unheralded book written by Warren in 2003, The Two-Income Trap. In it, Warren argued that the normalization of two-income households in recent decades has been a terrible development for both families and women by increasing families’ financial instability and, by economic necessity, stripping women of their choice between working or caring for their children. Echoing the concerns of many conservatives today, Warren bemoaned how current economic circumstances have combined to undermine the family in important ways, ultimately leading to higher rates of domestic abuse, divorce, and broken homes.

In responding to new Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s poorly conceived op-ed criticizing President Trump, Carlson challenged political leaders, for the good of the country, to adopt a new set of priorities: “If you want to put America first, you’ve got to put its families first,” particularly when it comes to economic policy. “Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.”

Although some conservatives may balk at such language questioning the inherent goodness of free markets, there is an excellent case to be made, one which is backed up by social science. Marriage and the family are undoubtedly in crisis in America at present, a crisis which has been exacerbated by economic forces. Our economy is increasingly discouraging marriage, making it difficult for men to find spouses, as Carlson pointed out, but also pushing more men out of the labor force altogether, a state which is strongly correlated with being unmarried. While the current status quo may be a boon for big business and the stock market, it is decidedly not for families and working class households.

With so much overlap between these arguments made by Warren and Carlson, it would appear the opportunity is ripe for working across the aisle. And for a nation suffering such a dire crisis, there is no more deserving issue of our attention. The social science definitively shows that intact marriages and families are critical for the health of any society, and the gradual collapse of the American family has no doubt played a significant role in many of the ills our country currently faces. Putting our nation’s families first is an absolute necessity for any political leader hoping to accomplish meaningful change.

So where might those leaders start? Currently, there is very little incentive for marriage within the tax code, a strange phenomenon given the importance of marriage to our society. In some cases, especially among low wage earners, there are significant penalties. Per the left-leaning Tax Policy Center:

[I]n 2018 a couple with one child where both partners make $25,000 would pay $3,117 less in taxes if they did not marry. This is because their combined income means the married couple would not qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Thus, they’d pay a higher total amount of income tax on their joint income than if they did not marry.

This is clearly backwards. While our government ought to be encouraging Americans to marry and form families, instead it is doing the opposite, financially incentivizing adults to avoid marriage, despite the fact that it is a demonstrably bad outcome for any children those adults might have. And although varying proposed solutions might be debated — for example, raising the standard deduction for married couples — this would seem to be an obvious area where both the right and left might collaborate to truly benefit families.

Of course, that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other policy areas — from welfare, to immigration, to criminal justice — where much pro-family progress can and needs to be made and where common ground exists for both sides. Could a Carlson-Warren coalition make it happen? For the sake of American families, it is certainly worth our best effort.

Terry Schilling (@PizzaPolitico) is executive director of the American Principles Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for traditional American values.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.