COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - As we lead up to Thursday's town hall meeting, put on by WTVM and the Mayor's Commission of Unity, Diversity and Prosperity, here's a question - can marriage help cure poverty?
Some studies say walking down the aisle equals more success, but not everyone agrees.
News Leader 9's Jason Dennis tackles the issue, with the help of a Columbus married couple, family expert, and soon-to-be wife.
J.R. and Bonnie Anderson are happily married with a 5-month-old son. Rewind to nearly four years ago when their wedding was live on WTVM. Since then, they say it hasn't been easy but it's been worth it.
"Growing up as a little girl, you're always thinking about being married, having that little Cinderella story, having a family," said Bonnie.
"Marriage actually saved my life," J.R. said. "As a young man, I was drawn to the infatuation of women."
They say it's great to have someone to share everything with, including finances. This pair followed what's called the "Success Sequence" which is three parts: graduate from high school, get married, then have a child after you're 21. It's even on a local billboard.
Bonnie, the product of a single mom, believes following this path in this order is the easiest way to avoid failures, maybe even poverty...but she also knows being married doesn't guarantee anything.
"If it does not fall in that order, I do think you can be successful," Bonnie said.
"There's a very strong statistical correlation between marriage and poverty," said Carmen Overton, Executive Director of Right from the Start.
According to Census information, less than eight percent of the families with two married parents lived in poverty in 2012, compared to nearly 34 percent of single mothers' homes at the poverty level.
"Communities that support and have strong marriages have stronger economies, they have stronger communities, they have less crime, they have better schools," Overton said.
Right from the Start is a marriage and family-based initiative in Columbus, a city that has one of the highest divorce rates in the Southeast, with more than 1,000 each year.
"Some people decide not to get married because of the fear of divorce," Overton said.
And for those in poverty or close to it, that's been show to be a barrier to a lasting marriage.
On the flip side, some analysts say the breakdown of the family is partly to blame for poverty, so a few politicians have recently called marriage a powerful tool to lift people out of those poor conditions.
"I know people who have gotten married for other reasons, like financial - that it made more sense, they felt like it was the next step in their life or relationship," said Kayla Findley, who is engaged.
Findley has her wedding planned for this May, ignoring the negative stigma that some have placed on marriage nowadays.
"Sometimes, it seems like married people on TV are not as happy as maybe single people," Findley said.
The Andersons admit marriage used to be more sacred, but times have changed and so have perceptions.
"Being single, you can kinda enjoy yourself," Bonnie said. "Marriage, you're tied down to one person, they really don't think that's the cool thing to do anymore."
"I remember being single," J.R. said. "It's not like it's so glamorous either - you do what you want to do, but at the end of the day, you wish you had somebody else to do it with. I still take it as an honor, a privilege to be married."
You're invited to participate in Thursday's special town hall meeting called "The Dream Lives - Breaking the Cycle of Poverty."
It will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the new City Services Building on Macon Road and will be streamed on our website.