Measuring the percentage of children living in married-couple families addresses the TANF goal of encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. Unlike a measure of nonmarital births, this measure considers whether parents marry and stay married for as long as they have children at home, not just at the time the child is born. In addition, it addresses the well-being of low-income children and families and could serve to stimulate state interest in a range of strategies that promote intact families. The TANF High Performance Bonus includes a measure of the percentage point change in the rate of all children who reside in married-couple families, based on a comparison of data between years.
Measurement issues. The primary issue for this measure is the population to which it will be applied. Under the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the TANF High Performance Bonus, HHS proposed to apply this measure to children in families with incomes below 200 percent of poverty who reside in married-couple families. HHS proposed to restrict the measure to poor and near-poor families because these are the ones who are most likely to be affected by welfare policy and to be targeted in state programs to promote marriage.
However, many commentators expressed concern about this measure, noting that if the measure was focused on poor or near-poor children, as the NPRM proposed, there was the potential for states to be rewarded for undesirable outcomes. For example, an increase in the number of low-income families, such as might be caused by an economic downturn, would also likely result in an increase in the share of low-income two-parent families. Conversely, policies that promoted marriage or rewarded work among two-parent families might cause these families to have incomes greater than 200 percent of the poverty level, causing a state to be punished for a positive outcome. In response to these concerns, in the Final Rule for the High Performance Bonus, HHS adopted a broader measure rewarding those states with the greatest increase in the percentage of children who reside in married-couple families, regardless of family income.
Data issues. Using this measure would entail no new data collection responsibilities on the part of the state. It is anticipated that national data will be available to measure state performance from the Census Bureau's decennial and annual (e.g., ACS) demographic programs. The Census Bureau's decennial and annual demographic programs would provide uniform, objective, and reliable state-level data beginning in 2001 (with respect to 2000). As noted above, use of this (or any measure that relies on the ACS) is contingent upon the continued availability of the new Census Bureau data.
Fairness issues. Since this is a population-based measure, the TANF agency would have limited ability to influence this family formation measure beyond the TANF population. However, the TANF goal of supporting two-parent families is not limited to "needy families," so it might be appropriate for TANF agencies to look beyond their traditional service population of families receiving cash assistance.