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U.S. News Archive
November 22 - November 30, 1999





This page contains news for the period Monday, November 22, 1999 through Tuesday, November 30, 1999.





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Tuesday, November 30, 1999

More courts are awarding long-term alimony to divorcing women

An article published today in the Christian Science Monitor reports that after two decades of decline, alimony has begun to make a resurgence in American divorce law, due in part to a renewed focus on the job sacrifices women often make throughout a marriage and the value of their traditional role as family caretakers.

Alimony was originally conceived as a support system for homemaking spouses unable to make a living for themselves and was often awarded on a long-term basis. That began to change with the advent of feminism in the early 1970s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, women have made great strides toward self-sufficiency. Yet for women 25 and older, the story says that the earning gap has remained nearly 76 cents on the dollar earned by men, supporting the notion that many women make sacrifices in their marriage years that significantly reduce their earning power.

As a result, some courts and state legislatures are rethinking alimony law. The notion of short-term awards, aimed at prodding divorced homemakers into the workplace and toward economic independence, is being tempered by the idea that ex-wives sometimes need longer-term support from former spouses.

"We're moving into a new discussion about [alimony]," says Mary Frances Lyle, co-chair of the American Bar Association's alimony committee. "At the peak of the women's movement ... there was a strong attitude of 'You want equality and independence, you got it baby,' " she says. "But now we're beginning to see that it's a much more complex issue than that."

The story says the shift toward longer-term alimony has been gradual, slowly and inconsistently filtering into family-law courts. Even so, it signifies a growing desire to compensate spouses who make career sacrifices to support a marriage that fails, regardless of their ability to support themselves at a certain minimum level.

Several factors are working to bring renewed focus on alimony in divorce law. One is the wage gap. Another is the nationwide effort to trim welfare rolls.

The story notes that several state Supreme Court decisions earlier this decade have laid the groundwork for the new interpretation of alimony's purpose. In recent months, courts and state officials have added to the momentum with a handful of decisions.

For example, California Gov. Gray Davis (D) recently signed a bill allowing former spouses to receive alimony payments longer. The legislation overturned a law that said alimony payments should continue for only half the length of a long-term marriage (one that lasted more than 10 years).

Two months ago, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) signed a law formally codifying "limited-duration alimony," a type of alimony for shorter-term marriages that had been used in case law for some time. And last year, in a closely watched case, the state Superior Court determined that a woman who had been married for a relatively short 10 years should receive permanent alimony.

Last spring, an Illinois appellate court gave $4,500 a month to a woman who had been married 19 years, tripling the $1,500 a month laid out by the trial judge.

Single moms transitioning from welfare to work will lose child care subsidy in California

A story published today in the Los Angeles Times reports that up to 13,000 single mothers in the California workforce will lose child care funding in next few months. Many of these mothers say they'll have to quit their jobs without the money.

In Los Angeles alone, an estimated 5,200 parents--mostly working mothers--who got off welfare and found jobs will hit the two-year cutoff for child care assistance between January and June. Statewide, about 13,000 people will lose the money, according to reports released at a Capitol hearing Monday.

If these parents return to welfare, they could again qualify for child care. But for some, that prospect is unthinkable.

"If this is taken away, there's absolutely no way I would be able to keep my job," said Linda Wibberly, a mother of two who left welfare two years ago after finding a job with a billing company in Sacramento. Despite a promotion and raise, Wibberly said, her salary barely pays her bills, not to mention her $800-a-month child care costs. But "I can't go back on welfare. . . . You can't imagine how degrading it is," she said.

According to the article, the state originally had promised Wibberly and other welfare reform participants child care assistance until they reached 75% of the state median income, or about $29,000 a year for a family the size of hers. But last spring, Gov. Gray Davis cut from the budget $50 million for extending the child care. Davis said that he was philosophically opposed to any extension beyond what is offered the working poor who qualify for a similar voucher program.

The Sacramento hearing was intended to warn Davis of the consequences of his action before he finishes the draft of his new budget proposal in early January.

The story says that in the current fiscal year the state had budgeted $1.2 billion to pay child care costs for 265,600 children of welfare recipients. To qualify, their parents must be working or actively seeking employment, part of the state's response to the 1996 federal overhaul of welfare.

However, because of Davis' veto, only $17.5 million was set aside for people like Wibberly who were able to get off welfare and hold down a steady, but low paying, job. As a result, last month Wibberly received notice that her child care subsidy will end on December 31.

"What's going to happen now?" Wibberly asked the panel, crying. "I cannot leave my babies home alone. It's not safe."

New child support project to be tested in San Francisco

A story published today in the San Francisco Examiner reports that San Francisco is about to become California's testing ground for a program that will make the city a guarantor of child support payments from parents who are not meeting court-ordered financial obligations.

In launching the Child Support Assurance Project, the city "could become the absent parent" for hundreds of children whose welfare depends on court-ordered support payments, Mayor Willie Brown said Monday.

Starting on July 1, 2000, the city will enroll 300 single parents now working at least 20 hours a week in the state's welfare-to-work program, CalWORKS. The City will pay the single parents their base benefit amount from state funds, plus half of whatever is paid by or collected from the noncustodial parent, in a single check. But the base check will be higher, and program participants will be able to earn more money and still remain eligible than they would under CalWORKS.

The story says that the higher income generated by the program's formula will, in theory at least, facilitate participants' transition from welfare to full-time work, according to coordinator Deborah Taylor.

Many of the mothers are on welfare because the fathers aren't paying child support. Consequently, the new program will incorporate an effort to improve the non-custodial parent's job skills while intensifying support payment collection efforts via the district attorney's office, said Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne.

"We will actually make the payment as though we were the dad, instead of making a welfare payment, and that way the custodial parent can count on an exact amount of money," Lightbourne said.

The story notes that even though San Francisco would become the nominal guarantor of the child support payments, the state and federal government would pay for virtually all of it.

The project will use a carrot-and-stick method of addressing the noncustodial parent who is obligated to pay child support.

First, city agencies will make him eligible for every program San Francisco has for improving his vocational skills and improving his earning power.

Second, nonsupport cases involving children whose mothers are participating in the program will get the the highest priority from the district attorney's Family Support Bureau.

According to the story, Massachusetts and Wisconsin are both experimenting with a similar project, with promising results.

ACLU sues Utah over ban on adoptions by unmarried couples

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to block a rule that prohibits unmarried couples in Utah from adopting children in state custody.

The state Division of Child and Family Services claims its new rule was designed to protect children from potential abuse at the hands of unrelated adults.

The ACLU lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in state court, argues that the rule is ``grounded in irrational fear and prejudice toward same-sex couples'' and violates the Utah Constitution.

The ACLU, which is representing two gay couples, joins with the advocacy group Utah Children, which sued the division last month. That lawsuit claims the rule, which went into effect in September, goes against the best interest of children and contradicts the state's own push to expand the pool of adoptive parents.

According to the story, the governor's office reported in September there were 2,308 children in state care but only 1,014 families prepared to take them in.

The new rule, an administrative policy that has the same effect as law, requires all adults in an adoptive home to be related by blood, adoption or legal marriage. A similar rule regarding state-sponsored foster care was adopted in August.

The story notes that both rules affect two groups: heterosexual couples who choose not to marry and gay couples, who are not allowed to marry under Utah law. In addition, critics argue, the rule could keep people from adopting who rent rooms to unrelated boarders, host Mormon missionaries in their homes or have roommates. Single adults living alone are allowed to adopt.


Monday, November 29, 1999

The bachelors of Silicon Valley

An article published today by ABC.news.com reports that the high-tech in Northern California area known as "Silicon Valley" has the highest percentage of rich bachelors in the world.

According to the story, everywhere you look on Friday night in Silicon Valley, there are successful young computer engineers with money to burn — on expensive cars, upscale restaurants and fine wine.

Silicon Valley now beats out Anchorage, Alaska, as the area with the highest percentage of unmarried men. Which is why the American Singles organization just held its national convention there.

But even though quite a few women showed up for the convention — and some even risked a dance with men who clearly are more comfortable with the rhythms of a hard drive — some of the women could still be spotted looking for something better on the group’s Web site, right there in the middle of the party.

One single woman was heard to say, "It is more comfortable. You feel safe. You get to know a lot about the person from a profile right away."

Single parents struggle to stretch money

A story published today in the Cincinnati Enquirer focuses on the financial struggles experienced by single parents trying to raise kids on their own.

The story gives as an example Belinda Lockett who wants to save for retirement and fund her children's education and buy a house, all while providing for her family's day-to-day needs. But unlike many parents, she's doing it on one income.

As a single mother, Lockett is fully responsible for all of her own financial needs as well as those of her two sons. Michael is 13 and Reginald is 12. She finds it to be a daunting proposition, and one where not much information is available.

"It's very, very sad to me that in school, we learned nothing," the Westwood resident said of her financial education. "I took four years of French, but French can't buy me a house."

The story says Lockett is not alone. Sixteen million children were living with one parent in 1990, and there's been no indication that number has decreased since the last national census.

The burden mostly falls on women. Of the 8.6 million single- parent households with children, the vast majority (about 7 million) are headed by women. And those women, according to the census, earn less than half what married couples earn - $385 a week, compared with $783 a week. Men who are single parents pull in an average of $520 a week, according to a 1991 census bureau survey.

And with the cost of raising a child from birth through college currently estimated at $450,000, it's no wonder that women such as Lockett have a lot on their minds. Like almost 2 million other single mothers, she receives no child support.

"The ball stops with me," said Lockett, who is a medical secretary. "It's even more important for single parents to learn about how to handle money.

The story says she tried to invest in the stock market once but pulled out when she became discouraged because she didn't know what she was doing.

According to Barbara Culver, a certified financial planner, single mothers who want to invest should first determine their risk tolerance and how that matches the desire for a given return. Then, after a plan is set in place, they should watch fees and expenses associated with the investments.

But Culver said investing and handling money is only part of what single parents need to consider. There is also insurance coverage and company benefits that should be taken advantage of.

The story points out that insurance coverage might be easy to overlook, but any parent should ensure that they are adequately covered in case something happens to them or their income. This is especially important for single parents if their children are dependent on their income alone.

"Disability of the mother looms as a major concern," Culver said. "How will the family survive if she is unable to bring home a paycheck? Many mothers ask: How can I afford another payment for the disability income premium? The flip side of this is: If you are now living from paycheck to paycheck, how can you afford to not have the coverage?"

Culver suggests working with a professional to ensure that the proper amount of disability and life insurance is bought to protect the children.

The story says that many employers offer life and disability insurance as part of benefit packages, but like so many other benefits, they go misunderstood and underused.

People should be fully aware of what their companies offer and then make the most of it. Benefits that might be disregarded include:

• Health insurance.

• Medical savings accounts (which collect tax-deductible contributions to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses).

• Retirement plans.

• Child care savings accounts (like the medical plans, they use pretax dollars to pay expenses).

"It is critical for single mothers to understand their corporate benefits and to maximize them," Culver said.

The story also uses Trenicka Williams as an example. Williams works for Culver in the financial planning firm but also is raising Shawn, 12, and Shayla, who turns 7 soon.

The hardest part about being a single parent is making the house payment on one salary, she said. She had to cash in her last retirement plan - about $9,000 - to buy out her ex-husband's share of the house.

But her short-term goal is paying off her credit cards and building up a bit of savings, "so I do not have to live paycheck to paycheck," she said - while continuing to pay for gymnastics, basketball and karate lessons.

But for all of her concerns, Ms. Williams said she has help from her ex-husband, with whom she shares custody and many of the children's expenses. For those who can, she recommends other single mothers do the same.

"My best advice is, a lot of people think only about themselves and not of their children," Ms. Williams said. "Look at the children and what's best for them. ... Keep communication open and good will with the other partner. Maybe they will be able to help."


Friday, November 26, 1999

Unmarried moms in Utah give up 6.9% of children; U.S. average is 1.9%

An article published today in the Desert News reports that unmarried, pregnant women in Utah are more likely than those in any other state to give up their babies for adoption.

Still, the majority of unmarried, pregnant Utah women choose abortion or to raise their children themselves as single parents, according to statistics released this week by the National Council for Adoption, a private research organization advocating adoption as the best choice for both unmarried mothers and their babies.

According to data collected by the council, 6.9 percent of infants born to unmarried women in Utah in 1996 were given up for adoption. That was three times higher than the national average of 1.9 percent.

Alaska was second with a rate of 6.7 percent, Wyoming was third at 5.9 percent and Idaho was fourth at 5.7 percent.

The statistic for Utah also means that 94.1 percent of unmarried women who give birth choose to rear their babies themselves.

The council also reported that Utah reported 8.8 abortions for every 100 births to unmarried women or higher than its rate of adoptions. The national average was 33 abortions per 100 live births.

The new "Adoption Factbook III" released by the Council also lists research that claims adoption is often the best option for an unmarried woman and her baby.

It noted that a 1994 Search Institute study found that adopted children score higher than middle-class counterparts on indicators of school performance, social competency, optimism and voluntarism.

The study also found that adopted adolescents are generally less depressed than children of single parents and less involved in alcohol abuse, vandalism, group fighting, police trouble, weapon use and theft, the council said.

It also said that research by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that teenage mothers who choose adoption are more likely to finish school and less likely to live in poverty and receive public assistance than mothers who keep their children.

The council said the research also found teen mothers who choose adoption are more likely to marry eventually; more likely to be employed 12 months after the birth; less likely to repeat unwed pregnancies; and are no more likely to suffer negative psychological consequences than mothers who rear children as single parents.


Wednesday, November 24, 1999

National survey finds increase in unmarried families, more diversity

An Associated Press story published today in dozens of newspapers, including the Philadelphia News, reports that the percentage of American households made up of married couples with children dropped from 45 percent in the early 1970s to just 26 percent in 1998, a survey found.

A story released by UPI today also reported on the findings of a new national survey on marital status and family formation.

Both stories are based on a new survey released by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Survey results indicate that the institution of marriage is waning as the century draws to a close and that most households will not include children and those that do will not include the children's biological parents.

Report author Tom W. Smith said divorce, cohabitation and single parenthood are largely responsible for the changes. He said marriage rates also are changing according to class, with the middle class more likely to marry and remarry than the working class.

"Marriage has declined as the central institution under which households are organized and children are raised," Smith said. "People marry later and divorce and cohabitate more.

A growing proportion of children has been born outside of marriage. Even within marriage the changes have been profound as more and more women have entered the labor force and gender roles have become more homogenous between husbands and wives."

The survey found in 1998 only 26 percent of households were made up of married couples with children compared with 45 percent in 1972. The number of unmarried households with no children increased from 16 percent in 1972 percent to 32 percent in 1998 to become the most common living arrangement in the country.

The percentage of mothers in the workforce more than doubled between 1972 and 1998, going from 33 percent to 67 percent while the number of households where the mother worked and father stayed home went from 2 percent to 4 percent in the same period.

The figures paint an even starker picture of marriage in the 1990s than the U.S. Census has. Census takers found that married couples with children under the age of 18 had fallen from 50 percent of all households in 1970 to an estimated 36 percent in 1997.

The new data reflects an increasing number of people waiting to have children and the growing number of baby boomers becoming empty nesters.

The survey found that in 1998:

  • 56% percent of adults were married, compared with nearly 75 percent in 1972, when the survey was first taken.
  • 51% percent of children lived in a household with their two parents, compared with 3 percent in 1972.
  • The percentage of households made up of unmarried people with no children was 33 percent, more than double the 1972 rate.
  • The percentage of children living with single parents rose to 18.2 percent, versus 4.7 percent in 1972.

The researchers interviewed 2,832 Americans 18 and older between February and May 1998.

Americans seem to be accepting of what Smith called the "modern family." For example, 67 percent of people surveyed last year disagreed that parents ought to stay together just because they have children; that question was not asked in previous surveys.

Stephen Kraus, a Connecticut-based market researcher for Yankelovich Partners, told the Associated Press that that Americans were becoming more tolerant of divorce, partly because many people who are starting families may be products of divorce themselves.

However, Bahira Sherif, a professor of individual and family studies at the University of Delaware, said Americans continued to see marriage as an ideal, even if they do not think it is always best to get married or stay married.

"We are a very marriage-happy society," Sherif said. "There's a basic ideology that building a family means stability."

Smith expects Americans to continue to look for ways to make nontraditional families work -- from finding better child care to coming up with nontraditional workweeks so single parents can spend more time with their children.

"We've only had a generation to figure out how to make the modern family work," Smith said. "It's going to take some time."


Tuesday, November 23, 1999

DNA paternity test available for unsure dads

A story published today by CBS.com reports that DNA testing, which has been wonderful for identifying inherited diseases, is now being used more frequently in paternity cases as well, sometimes with surprising results.

"I cried. There was a lot of emotion; it felt like a death," recalls Morgan Wise about his reaction to learning he was not the father of his youngest son, Rauli.

The story says that a DNA genetic test uncovered the truth: Rauli, one of four children from Wise's first marriage, had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

"So the question came up with my older sister, with her kids. She was going to have them tested to see if she had the gene and passed it on to her children," he explains.

"We had family members concerned, and so I just said, 'You know, I'll just get tested,'" he says.

Both parents must carry the gene for a child to have cystic fibrosis. To everyone's surprise, Wise did not have the gene. This meant he wasn't Rauli's father. DNA testing is virtually 100 percent accurate.

The story says the news was devastating. "It was like someone had called and said that, you know, you lost your boys," he says.

Rauli was not his biological son and the other two boys were not either. Only his 14-year-old daughter Carli was biologically his.

"I still look at them, you know, the same. You know, I wonder whom they belong to. But as far as my love for them, I still love them," he says.

"He's still the father. He just doesn't want to be the 'check-in-the-mail' father," explains Robert Miller, Wise's attorney.

The story says that Miller is trying to reopen the divorce case so the biological father can be located and help support the boys.

Since Wise has always been considered the father, he must continue to support the children or go to jail.

"The legal point was that now we have a father, required to pay child support, for children who were not biologically his," explains Miller.

DNA testing for paternity is now readily available and widely advertised and can only lead to more cases like this in the future.

"I do now advise future divorced husbands if you want to do DNA [testing], do it now. Because if you're not, you can then resolve it prior to the divorce," he says.

While DNA testing must be done in a licensed lab to be admissible in court, there are home DNA kits that can be purchased to get the same answers, and it's easy to do.

A cotton swab is used to rub the inside of the cheek, and then it's put in an envelope or vial and sent to a lab for testing. The average cost is $300 to $400.

Testing blood is often preferred because you can get a sample of adequate size. But testing saliva can be just as accurate. If you're dealing with people afraid of needles or who have had a blood transfusion recently, saliva will do the trick.

Unmarried adults should start planning for long-term care needs

A column published today in the Detroit Free Press stresses how middle-ages adults, particularly those who are unmarried, should start planning for the long-term care they may need when they are older.

Even though people may be well now, and long-term care seems like a vague need in the distant future, the article warns that with the passage of time, health may fail which in turn may cause lifestyles to be altered.

The columnist recalls that for three years her children have listened to her chatter on about having purchased long-term care insurance. She’s heard her grown kids say, "Don't worry, we'll take care of you."

But many seniors do not want to depend on their children, assuming their children are able or willing to support them. A serious health problem such as stroke could bankrupt the family.

The time to plan for long-term care is when people are healthy and in their middle age, not at the last minute.

The author notes that a primary reason seniors and their children look other way in these matters is because they don't know what long-term care involves.

People need long-term care insurance in case they have to live in an assisted care facility or a nursing home.

The author bought her insurance before my 73rd birthday. Her policy will cover $100 a day for three years. Just think about it. That's $3,000 a month.

According to the article, Elaine Berenbaum of Southfield, Michigan, was 65 when she signed up. A retired school guidance counselor and unmarried, Berenbaum says she wishes she'd done it earlier. "People should start thinking about it in their 50s. The premiums are cheaper and they can qualify for better coverage."

Pauline Manetta of Troy comes at the situation from another perspective. She owns A-Elite Home Care Services and sees how hard it is for her clients to afford the 4_hour shifts her staff provides in the home.

Manetta says, "If they can't afford home care now, when their condition worsens, how would thy be able to pay for assisted living?" She bought a lifetime policy for herself and tells friends who say they can't afford a premium, "If you can't afford a $1,000_a_year premium now, how are you going to afford a $2,000_a_month bill in a nursing home or assisted living facility?"

Here are guidelines to know about when buying long-term care insurance:

(1) Seek at least two estimates from specialists in the field.

(2) Answer all the questions on the application form and don't omit any known adverse health conditions.

(3) Cost for this coverage is deductible from your income taxes.

(4) Don't depend on Medicare. It only covers skilled care and only for a limited number of days.

The author of this article, Dell Warner, writes on senior's issues for the Free Press.


Monday, November 22, 1999

New research project will study the effect of marital status on health

An article published today in the Tartan reports that the National Institute of Health has warded Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh a five-year, $10 million grant to create a Center for the Study of Mind-Body Interactions and Health.

This grant will be used towards the research of four different projects. Michael Scheier and Sheldon Cohen, psychology professors at Carnegie Mellon, will lead two of the projects studying how psychological factors affect physical health. Karen Matthews, principal investigator for grant and director of the Mind-Body Center and Lynne Martire are leading the other two projects at the University of Pittsburgh.

"The real focus of the grant is find out how psychological factors get inside the body, and influence progressions to disease," said Cohen. "All four groups will focus on the same social and biological pathways and three hormones. For example, we will look at how stressed individuals are more likely to get sick due to the fact that they will smoke more and diet less."

Cohen's group is focusing on how different marital statuses of an individual affect the common influenza virus. "We will be hoping to answer such questions as, 'Are certain kinds of marriages harmful to health?' and 'How important are different kinds of social domains (church groups, being employed, social circles, etc) to your health?' " said Cohen.

The group already knows that there is a difference in health whether a person is married or unmarried. "Conflicts in marriages yield psychological responses that are detrimental to health," said Cohen. "We will conduct a careful evaluation of married and unmarried relationships and also check good versus bad marriages. "Scheier's group is studying to see whether psychosocial interventions can be used to lower the chances of breast cancer.

Matthews and her group are studying how psychological responses can be used to treat heart disease. Martire's group is studying the effects on osteoarthritis patients.


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