Local economy is tough on marriages

A new study by Men’s Health found that Charleston has the worst divorce rate among 100 U.S. cities. Stephen N. Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, told the magazine that poor employment prospects are to blame.

“The pressure to make a good living puts strain on a marriage,” he said, “and right now it is infinitely harder to make a living here than it was 40 years ago.”

This sad report underscores a disturbing trend cited by various sociologists: Marriage remains strong among America’s college graduates, but it is disintegrating for two-thirds of the population with only high school diplomas or less. Since West Virginia has the lowest rate of college degrees, it bears the brunt of the wedlock decline.

The U.S. economy is shifting. Many less-educated young people today cannot afford to form families and raise children. This change raises ominous prospects. In a Chicago speech last year, President Obama said:

“There’s no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for reducing violence, than strong, stable families — which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood. I wish I had a father who was around and involved.”

A report titled “The President’s Marriage Agenda for the Forgotten 60 Percent” declared:

“Something astonishing has happened. In ‘Middle America,’ defined here as the nearly 60 percent of Americans aged 25 to 60 who have a high school diploma but not a four-year college degree, marriage is rapidly slipping away.... The plight of this population who once married in high proportions and formed families within marriage... is the social challenge of our times. And virtually no one is talking about it.”

Great numbers of high school graduates simply don’t wed. One analysis said growing ranks of young American men never acquire “the civilizing effects of marriage.” Among those who do marry, divorce is rampant — around 37 percent, compared to just 11 percent for college-educated couples.

In the 1980s, only 13 percent of babies born to high school graduates were out of wedlock — but the rate has climbed to nearly half. Children raised by single mothers suffer grim disadvantages such as poverty, school failure, delinquency, drug abuse and recurring single motherhood.

It’s a national dilemma — and it’s a jolt to learn that Charleston occupies the bottom level of the divorce dungeon.

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