Sunday, September 17, 2006
Singles have little to celebrate on their week
- A great community needs great leaders
- A fresh vision for downtown Christiansburg
- The Black House will be an eyesore no more
- Del. Yost wants to clean up Virginia's laws
From the RoundTable blog
Lately, the family has been on my back again. One sister got married this summer. The other sister has been married for years and has two kids. My brother is in an apparently stable relationship.
"When are you getting married, Chris?"
This week, I shall ignore their pestering inquiries.
Today marks the start of Unmarried and Single Americans Week, which was started by the Buckeye Singles Council in Ohio in the 1980s. It's an annoying, faux event like so many others, but that won't stop this columnist from exploiting it and doing a little celebrating.
If only there were something to celebrate.
Ninety million Americans, about 40 percent of adults, are single, reflecting a decades-long trend away from marriage.
For the first time last year, their households were the majority, squeaking ahead of married-couple homes by about a half million. That milestone had been coming. In 1950, married couples were three-quarters of households. They were 60 percent in 1980, and 52 percent in 2000.
With such swelling ranks, any other group would enjoy equally swelling political influence. Not singles. If you don't have a spouse and kids by your 30s, there must be something wrong with you.
Family values, whatever those really are, still control the national debate. Groups such as Focus on the Family lobby hard and dictate policy. When was the last time you heard news of an organization like Unmarried America successfully shaping a bill?
Politicians have an unwarranted infatuation with the family and all things supposedly wholesome. More than 1,000 federal statutory provisions take into account marital status. Tax breaks for spouses. Tax breaks for kids. Easy inheritance. Extra Social Security benefits. Death benefits. Unmarried people subsidize it all.
In some states, including Virginia, being single is nearly criminal. Laws sit on the books banning unmarried sex and cohabitation.
Then there are the less official, more insidious penalties.
Economists have documented that companies pay their married employees anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent more than their single co-workers in the same jobs with the same experience and education. On top of the extra cash, married workers enjoy additional perks such as subsidized medical coverage for families and sick days when children are throwing up.
Insurance companies, too, cut married drivers a break with discounted premiums. As if screaming kids in the back or a bickering spouse riding shotgun were conducive to safe driving.
The pro-marriage forces argue that America should encourage blissful wedlock. It's the fundamental building block of society, or something.
Hogwash. People would continue to marry and produce offspring without kickbacks. If economics and freebies are driving the decision, then they should probably reconsider putting on a ring.
We all have a duty to invest in some fundamental programs that favor families, such as education. Other handouts for the wedded are just a wealth transfer from the people who already do not enjoy the benefit of economies of scale in housing and other subsistence expenses.
Ultimately, marriage is a lifestyle choice. People choose to live that way. America should not treat singles as second-class citizens because they have chosen or been forced into an equally legitimate path. The debate should be framed in terms of equality, not social engineering.
Even if single people are searching for true love, the deck is stacked against women nationally and men around these parts. There are about 8 million more unmarried women in the United States than men, and in Montgomery County, there are several thousand more unmarried men than women.
I wonder if the family will buy that excuse.
So, with the rest of the year so dismal, singles should enjoy this week. Rejoice in your freedom and have some fun. Possible festivities abound:
n Use a sick day to take your pet to the vet. Let the married people with kids who always seem to come down with something cover for you for once.
n Ask your married friends, "When are you getting single?"
n Place bets on which married couple will get single next. Half of all marriages end in divorce.
n Demand television stations broadcast more racy fare and adult language. Let parents screen what their kids see, not the media and the government.
n Revel in the even tan on all of your fingers.
n Say nice things about homosexuals, who also are perniciously forced into singleness.
n Have a fling with someone you just met without fear of a spouse catching you.
n Stay up late partying a few nights just because you can.
n Pity the couples with crying children. No poopy diapers for you.
n Lobby your congressmen to eliminate the singles penalty, along with every other punishment you receive just for living on your own.
n Most important, plan to vote in November. Politicians will start listening when singles start affecting election outcomes.
Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke Times, based in the New River Valley bureau in Christiansburg.