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The Marriage Calculator

What does it take to get married and stay married if you're not earning much or can't find work? More than it does otherwise. The US Government provides a Marriage Calculator to help parents who receive public assistance (and state and federal legislators who determine the rules) determine how much more assistance they and their kids will get if they're divorced and living apart or lying about living together.

I invented a family of four in Pennsylvania with an infant, a toddler and two parents working at Pennsylvania's minimum wage, $7.15 per hour. I gave them $600 in assets and a car worth $1,200. I put them both to work for 40 hours a week, and put the kids in child care for $1,000 per month. Then I ran the marriage calculator.

They do poorly enough that Pennsylvania provides them with WIC (free basic foods and baby formula) and free health insurance for the kids. It will also subsidize their child care costs.

Married, their tax credits and state benefits total $918 plus free health care for the two kids. Divorced and pretending not to live together, they'd get another $472 in benefits.

If Mom worked only 25 hours a week and they shared the child care responsibilities, divorcing and pretending not to live together would gain them $286 per month plus free health care for Mom.

What does it take to walk away from such benefits to stay married during tough times? What does it take to stay together as a family when Dad's hiding in the shadows? How can we help families who face such choices?


Takes a lot of assuming love, which ever way they go. Can we build imaginary friends who help them find better jobs, or hook them up with a program to build skills to be more employable?

I like the idea of friends for them, some to help them out of poverty, some to help them love each other, and some to watch out for them in the state legislature.

Does the system distinguish between Mom only working 25 hours a week and Dad doing the same?

It does, but the only time this makes any difference in the results is when the parents are unmarried and one is income-eligible for WIC and has a child under age five or on the way. Otherwise, it doesn't matter which parent you enter as Mom or Dad.


Excellent information and advice!! Suggest setting up to automatically find each readers' representatives names and addresses and send the info and allow reader to add a personal message.

You are great!!


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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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