Promoting Marriage to Reduce Poverty

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Junior Holmes and Keesha Russell i

Junior Holmes and Keesha Russell say that after taking the relationship class in inner-city Baltimore, they're getting along better and thinking more about the future. Neva Grant, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Neva Grant, NPR
Junior Holmes and Keesha Russell

Junior Holmes and Keesha Russell say that after taking the relationship class in inner-city Baltimore, they're getting along better and thinking more about the future.

Neva Grant, NPR
Anthony Polk, Alfreda Stewart and their three children stand in front of their home. i

Anthony Polk, Alfreda Stewart and their three children live in subsidized housing in East Baltimore. The couple has been together, off and on, for 17 years. They say they learned a lot in the relationships class, but they're not sure they're ready for marriage. Neva Grant, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Neva Grant, NPR
Anthony Polk, Alfreda Stewart and their three children stand in front of their home.

Anthony Polk, Alfreda Stewart and their three children live in subsidized housing in East Baltimore. The couple has been together, off and on, for 17 years. They say they learned a lot in the relationships class, but they're not sure they're ready for marriage.

Neva Grant, NPR

A few months ago, in inner-city Baltimore, a small group of graduates held a big celebration. These couples completed a five-month class in how to be a couple — how to build a life together. None of them is married yet, but they all have children.

The lives of those children might dramatically improve if their parents get married. That, at least, is what some experts believe.

After five months, the couples are done with sitting in a classroom, learning what a healthy relationship feels like. They're graduating with some new skills, and some old challenges.

These African-American couples took part in a sort of group therapy for several hours, once a week. They've learned how to fight fair, tell your partner what you need, and plan for the future.

A $1-million federal grant helped pay for the classes, which are run in Baltimore by the Center for Fathers, Families and Workforce Development. The federal government is funding programs like this across the country.

Research suggests that these couples — and their children — will be better off financially if their parents are married. Among other reasons, married couples pool their incomes and more frequently save for children's futures. And, the research says, married men tend to spend less time — and less of the family's money — outside the home.

But for Joe Jones, who runs the Baltimore center, the program isn't just about promoting marriage. Whenever he gets the chance, Jones walks the streets of East Baltimore to spread the word about a job-training program that his center also offers.

Jones' work tries to weave all the pieces together — jobs, relationships, fathers and mothers, children. Right now, Jones can't say how prominently marriage figures into the complex maze out of poverty. But in five years, he'll have some data. Researchers will study the effect that counseling and classes had on couples in Baltimore and across the country.

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