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U.S. News Archive
February 07 - February 13, 2000

 

 

 
 

 

This page contains news for the period Monday, February 07, 2000 through Sunday, February 13, 2000.

 

 

 

 

<<   February 2000  >>

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Friday, February 11, 2000


House passes so-called "marriage penalty" reduction bill

A story published today by Reuters reports that the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed a $182 billion tax cut bill that would end the so-called "marriage penalty" despite objections by the White House that it was too big and benefited the wealthy.

Republicans, who rushed the bill to the floor for an early vote, said they wanted to give millions of married couples a gift for Valentine's Day. But many Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it went too far and would also benefit couples who do not suffer a penalty under the tax codes but enjoy a so-called marriage bonus.

The story says that lawmakers voted 268-158 to pass the bill that would give married couples filing jointly double the standard deduction given to single filers. It would expand the income bracket subject to the lowest, 15 percent, tax rate and increase the earned income tax credit for low-income married couples.

Under current law many working married couples end up paying more in taxes than they would if they were single. But many Democrats argued the bill favored the rich and that about half of married couples get a so-called marriage bonus by paying less to the federal government than they would if they were single.

 

Thursday, February 10, 2000


"Marriage-saving" law sows discord in Wisconsin

A story published today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the state attorney general's and governor's offices are battling over Attorney General James Doyle's refusal to defend a new law creating a state marriage preserver whose job would be to reduce divorces.

Doyle told Gov. Tommy G. Thompson that the law is unconstitutional and cannot be legally defended against a lawsuit brought by the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation over issues of church and state separation.

Unhappy with Doyle's decision, Thompson hired a Milwaukee law firm at $165 an hour to defend the law.

The job of the so-called community marriage policy coordinator would be to assist clergy to develop standards for marriages solemnized by clergy, with an eye toward lowering the number of divorces from their current level of about 17,000 a year. It was part of the state budget bill, which includes $210,000 to pay for the position.

Patterned after a private movement called Marriage Savers, the program would be voluntary for communities. Couples would need to meet specific requirements, such as premarital counseling and more counseling after the weddings.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation challenged the idea in federal court in Madison, claiming it would use government money to promote religion.

"This has happened to us before. Tommy Thompson would not take the advice of the attorney general when we challenged the unconstitutional Good Friday statute (giving state employees four hours off that day with pay). He took an outside firm and they lost. I think he's picked another loser," said foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Since he became attorney general nine years ago, Doyle has refused on six occasions to defend state laws from a legal challenge because he believed the laws were unconstitutional.

In all six of those cases, the court has agreed with the attorney general, even though the governor went ahead and hired special counsel to defend the law in question.

 

Wednesday, February 9, 2000


Divorced woman can't keep ex-husband's frozen eggs

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that the Missachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that a woman can't have four frozen embryos she created with her former husband at a Boston-area fertility clinic.

The 44-year-old woman wanted the court to allow her to become pregnant with the embryos created in 1991. But her former husband had opposed the move, saying he didn't want any more children with his ex-wife.

The state Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld an injunction issued by a lower court.

The custody fight over the frozen embryos was a first in Massachusetts -- and one of a handful nationwide.

The story says that the woman, who cannot conceive a child naturally, first attempted to use the embryos in 1995, after the breakup of the couple's 17-year marriage. But her ex-husband sued, and in 1996 Probate and Family Court Judge Anthony Nesi ruled in his favor, saying agreements signed at the fertility clinic giving the woman custody in case of separation had expired.

The judge said if the woman became pregnant with one or more of the embryos, her ex-husband would face responsibility for additional children, children that he didn't want. "This would not only be unfair to the parent, but also unfair to the child who would enter the world unwanted by one of his or her parents,'' Nesi wrote.


Archaic sex laws in Arizona stay on the books

An article published today in the Arizona Republic reports that even though they may be outdated and unenforceable, lawmakers aren't willing to take Arizona's laws regulating sexual behavior off the books.

Senate Bill 1471 would have overturned the longtime ban on sodomy, as well as cohabitation and adultery. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning but was killed by the chairman of another legislative committee.

Sen. David Petersen, R-Mesa, said he would not hear the bill.

The measure passed the Judiciary Committee after spirited testimony from supporters who said it would help seniors who are living together and gays, who are often targets of discrimination. Seniors often live together instead of getting married to avoid losing social security benefits and higher taxes.

"These laws are unenforceable absent a government camera in every bedroom," said Amy Todd, a member of the Arizona Human Rights Fund. "They are antiquated and inappropriate."

But Sen. Tom Smith, R-East Phoenix, argues that the laws help set standards that society should live by. "I think there are a lot of laws that we have that identify conduct people are expected to maintain," Smith said. "I would hate to see this bill pass because I think it's breaking down the fabric of society."

Sen. Ed Cirillo, the sponsor of the bill, said it was time to repeal the laws, which were passed more than 80 years ago. Arizona is one of four states that ban same-sex intercourse, and one of 16 states with other sodomy laws on the books.

 

Tuesday, February 8, 2000


llinois unlikely to pass paid parental leave bill this year

An story published today in the Chicago Sun Times reports that as the Clinton administration advances efforts that would permit states to provide unemployment insurance benefits for paid parental leave, passage of a paid parental leave law this year in Illinois appears doubtful.

Under the administration's proposed U.S. Labor Department rule change, states would be able to enact laws to provide up to 12 weeks of unemployment benefits to parents of newborns or adopted children.

The story says that Chicago Democratic state Rep. Julie Hamos' bill, however, would go even further, covering all provisions for family and medical leave, also including providing the benefit for the care of a sick family member or personal illness.

Several states have been considering bills to provide paid parental leave benefits, including Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and Indiana.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law seven years ago, guarantees workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, seriously ill family member or their own serious illness. But many workers have not taken advantage of it, supporters note. Concern over lost wages was the reason cited in nearly two-thirds of those cases, according to a study by the bipartisan Family Leave Commission.

Twenty-eight-year-old NaShawna Terrell favors the proposal. The Chicago resident is in the process of adopting 10-year-old Quarchea, her first child.

"It sounds like a good idea for mothers and fathers," said Terrell, who is single and works as a counselor assisting low-income people with housing.

She said if she had the option, she'd consider taking advantage of it in June--when Quarchea's adoption will be completed--to continue bonding with her new daughter. The benefit would be particularly helpful to parents of newborns and younger children grappling with child care arrangements, she said.

Under the Illinois House bill, workers could receive unemployment benefits for up to 12 weeks while on leave for the birth or adoption of a child and in cases of family and personal illness, as defined under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Benefits would be paid as a percentage of their salary as follows, up to a maximum of $296 a week:

* Worker with dependent child: 65.5 percent of salary

* Worker with dependent spouse: 58.5 percent of salary

* Single worker: 49.5 percent of salary


Not enough votes to pass gay marriage bill in Vermont this year

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that only one-third of the members of the Vermont House of Representatives are willing to pass a gay marriage bill.

Speaking to a group of voters in Norwich, Vermont, Rep. Ann Seibert said not to expect a positive vote on gay marriage this year. Although she personally supports gay marriage, Seibert explained: ''It ain't going to be in Vermont this year because we don't have the votes.

According to Seibert's calculations, only about 50 representatives in the 150-member House have said they would vote for gay marriage so far.

''While it isn't easy to discard the great hope of same-sex marriage,'' Seibert told the crowd of several hundred, ''I think the writing is on the wall. I hate to come and be a skunk at the garden party, but this is the political reality.''

What might work, Seibert said, is a comprehensive domestic partnership system that provides gay couples with the legal and financial benefits of heterosexual marriage.


Financial advisor says to put the house title in both names

The February 8, 2000 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News carried a financial advice column concerning an unmarried couple who had the title to their house in the name of the male partner only.

The female partner wrote to columnist Harry Gross. She said they were engaged to be married and had been living together for more than four years. Lately, her boyfriend seemed to be getting too comfortable with the present situation. She was fraid that if she pressured him, things would really become messy. He has a family, but has had zero contact with them for more than 15 years. She felt as though she was his only "family" and that if something were to happen to him, she would be the one to take care of him. Their house is in his name alone, because she had bad credit at the time they bought it. She makes all the monthly payments.

She ended her letter by saying: "Harry, life is funny and people change. I just don't want to be out in the cold at the age of 44. What about a common law marriage? Do I qualify? I need protection."

The financial advisor replied:

"You should be able to get the title to the house put into joint names if he agrees - and that's a pretty big if since he seems to be happy with things as they are. Common law marriages are recognized by very few states, but Pennsylvania is still among them. A bill outlawing them was introduced in Harrisburg, but it has not passed. These are marriages that are not solemnized by civil or religious authority.

"For a marriage to be recognized, there must be an express agreement to assume the relationship of husband and wife. Living together and holding yourselves out to be married to friends, relatives, and the government is helpful evidence. Statements from blood relatives of each of the parties will generally be held by the courts as proof of the existence of the marriage. Joint bank accounts, homeownership, pension beneficiaries etc. will also help to prove the marriage if they indicate a husband-wife relationship."


Money watch columnist warns that unmarried couples should tend to finances

A "Money Watch" column appearing in the February 8, 2000 edition of the Cincinati Post focused on the need for unmarried couples to pay particular attention to financial matters -- more so than married couples who have a wide range of legal protections.

Columnist Patrick Larkin notes that unmarried couples make up a bit more than 10 percent of all the country's households and run the gamut from young people planning to marry to older people sharing living expenses with no intention of marrying.

He warns that such domestic partners face some potentially complicated financial issues, most of which married couples don't have to deal with. Because of that, the Financial Planning Association advises that if the relationship goes beyond sharing an apartment for a few months, unmarried couples should get professional help from attorneys, accountants and financial planners.

Since unmarried couples don't have a uniform and cohesive body of law governing property settlements and other issues, they should consider a contract - sometimes called a ''living together contract'' - that spells out how expenses will be shared, who owns what, and how the property gets divided if the relationship ends.

Larkin says that a ''living together contract'' can make things easier, but they aren't always enforceable. So put this on the list of items to run past an attorney.

He also suggests that unmarried couples also need to figure out who pays what. One idea is for the couple to set up a joint bank account and use it to pay for rent, utilities, groceries and other costs of living together. Each partner contributes an an agreed upon amount monthly, while keeping a separate account for their own uses, such as clothing, car payments, savings and the like.

Each partner should draw up a durable power of attorney and health care proxy. If one partner becomes incapacitated, this will allow the other to make health care and financial decisions for them. Without these, the partner in good health can't pay bills and may be pushed aside legally by the incapacitated partner's relatives.

While visiting an attorney, each partner should also prepare a will.

Larkin advises that without a properly drawn will, an unmarried partner can easily be cut out of the other partner's estate. Unmarried couples can also make use of living trusts, which might prove more resistant to challenges. Again, check with your attorney.

He emphasizes that how assets are titled is also critical, especially if a ''living together contract'' is not enforceable. Some experts recommend that unmarried partners who own a home or other property have it titled as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

Estate and gift taxes pose other challenges for unmarried couples because property generally can't be passed to each other free of taxes. If one partner owns a home and puts an unmarried partner on the deed, it might be considered a gift subject to gift taxes.

Some employers extend benefits to employees' partners, so check out company policies. However, be aware that the value of the benefits may be treated as taxable income. Check this out with your accountant, attorney or financial planner.

Finally, Larkin says that unmarried couples have to save more for retirement than married couples. Each partner has no right to the other's Social Security benefits in the event of death. And unmarried couples can't roll over tax-free an unmarried partner's IRA or qualified retirement plan into their own IRA. But each can name the other as beneficiaries of individual retirement accounts and retirement plans at work as well as of group life insurance policies.


Most in U.S. continue to disapprove of same-sex marriage

A story published today by Reuters reports that although public acceptance of gays continues to increase in the United States with a majority favouring anti-discrimination legislation, most people responding to a poll released on Tuesday remain opposed to same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples.

The nationwide Harris poll of 1,010 adults conducted from Jan. 6-10 found that 56 percent favored expanding current laws banning discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion and gender to gay men and women. Thirty-four percent said they opposed such legislation, while 11 percent said they did not know or refused to answer. Two years ago 52 percent favored legislation protecting gays from discrimination, while 41 percent opposed it.

On the issue of same-sex marriage, which Vermont is considering but many states have recently banned, only 15 percent of survey respondents approved of legalizing marriage between two men and only 16 percent supported it for two women, while 57 percent disapproved for men and 55 percent rejected it for women.

About 25% of respondents said they did not feel strongly about the issue, while 2 to 4 percent did not know how they felt or refused to respond.

While small, the numbers approving of same-sex marriage were up about 50 percent from four years ago, when only 11 percent supported it for women and 10 percent for men.

Adoption of children by gay couples also was strongly opposed. Fifty-five percent and 57 percent disapproved of adoption by female and male couples respectively, while 22 percent and 21 percent approved. Nearly 20 percent said they did not feel strongly about the issue.

The poll, which did not use the term margin of error, had a "statistical precision'' of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


Marital status protections on ballot in Ferndale, Michigan

A story published today in the Detoit News reports that voters in Ferndale, Michigan will soon decide the fate of a local civil rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, weight, height, gender, mental or physical disability, national origin, familial status, and age.

The ordinance makes a sweeping statement about inclusion that its drafters fully intend. Ferndale is a medium-size city just north of Detroit.

"We'd like to send a broad message of tolerance," says the city's mayor, Charles Goedert. "A message that Ferndale is a city of tolerance and diversity, a place where you love -- not hate -- your neighbor."

The ordinance is widely supported, even by St. James Catholic Church, the local parish, whose Father Bob Wurm hopes the new law will show that "Ferndale is an open and welcoming place."

After years of study and debate, the ordinance was approved by a 4-1 City Council vote last September. It went into effect and was then undone by a petition drive led by the lone council dissenter, Robert J. Paczkowski, who is no longer on the council.

He obtained enough petition signatures to rescind the law, while the City Council endorsed a public vote, now set for Feb. 22.

The media and dissenters have dubbed the ordinance a "gay rights law," -- even though the law so carefully protects so many other classes of people.

"This ordinance is a smoke screen to promote homosexual lifestyles," contends Paczkowski, who expressed concern about the government promoting "same-sex lovemaking."

So some Ferndale citizens and bystanders worry that a law banning discrimination against gays, lesbians and very tall people is not only a hospitable community's signpost of tolerance -- but also a treacherous slide down the societal slope to same sex marriage.

 

Monday, February 7, 2000


Divorce depresses boys more than girls

A story published today in USA Today reports that divorce more than doubles the risk for adjustment problems in children, says government-sponsored research.

But if the custodial parent, usually the mother, continues to do a good job of parenting, the risk of emotional and behavioral problems is reduced for both boys and girls, says an ongoing, 10-year study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The surprising news: Boys in divorced families are at higher risk for depression than those in intact families, even if the post-divorce situation is ideal. The report speculates that ''perhaps even optimal post-divorce circumstances are not sufficient to compensate for the sadness experienced by boys because of the departure of their father from the home.''

Having ''the father leave the home may be more traumatic for boys than for girls,'' says the study by a team at Iowa State University in Ames.

The good news, says lead researcher Ronald Simons, is the findings show that the majority of the children of divorce do just fine. ''What is essential for kids is that they be parented well,'' he says. ''If Mom and Dad continue to persevere in their parenting, are warm and supportive, monitor the kids and are consistent in discipline, the risk for conduct (behavior) problems is no greater than in two-parent families.''

The study involved 534 families: 328 two-parent and 206 divorced households headed by mothers. The average age of the children was 14. Findings are reported in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, published by the National Council on Family Relations, a professional association.

Robert Milardo, editor of the journal, says some children are affected ''horribly'' by divorce. But looking at the entire literature on divorce now, ''the effects for many do not seem very long term or profound.''


New study lists pros and cons of unmarried cohabitation

A story published today in the Chicago Sun Times reports that a new study indicates that unmarried couples who live together are more likely to physically abuse their partners and be unfaithful, and less likely to get assistance from family members than married couples.

People who live together without marrying tend to be younger, are less educated, more likely to attract partners who are less committed to marriage, and less likely to be successful at marriage, said Linda Waite, author of the study titled "The Negative Effects of Cohabitation." Waite is a sociology professor at the University of Chicago.

Cohabitation has become increasingly popular in recent years, with about 4 million couples living together outside of marriage in 1990, eight times as many as in 1970, according to the U.S. Census.

Many couples live together as a prelude to marriage, and they tend to share the characteristics of married couples, the study found. But those who had no intention of marrying often had short relationships with few benefits, according to the study.

"People who cohabit often contend that marriage is just about a piece of paper," Waite said. "We've found, however, that there is quite a bit of difference between being married and living together."

Partner abuse occurred among 17 percent of unmarried couples who had no plans to get married, in 14 percent of unmarried couples who planned to get married and in 5 percent of married couples, the study found.

Married couples were about half as likely as cohabiting couples to say that they had physical arguments in the previous year, the study found. Cohabiting couples were more than three times as likely to say "hitting, shoving and throwing things" occurred between them and their partner in the previous year.

The study also found that family members were not likely to loan money to a partner living with someone and not provide other kinds of support normally extended to a family member.

Waite studied U.S. Census data, and national surveys including the National Survey of Families and Households and the National Health Social Life Survey, all of which included more than 10,000 people, to look at the costs and benefits of cohabitation.

Her survey also found that cohabiting couples were more likely to be unfaithful. Twenty percent of cohabiting women had a secondary sex partner, compared with 4 percent of married women.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of living together outside of marriage, according to the University of Chicago study:

* Cohabiting couples had sex more often than married couples, an average of one additional sex act a month.

* Women in cohabiting relationships did 10 hours more housework than their male partners, while married women did 14 more hours of housework than their husbands.

* Men in cohabiting relationships were less likely to support their partners financially than married men.

* Cohabiting couples had the lowest level of wealth among household types, comparable to families headed by a single mother. Two-parent families and stepfamilies had the highest level of wealth.


Michigan pastors propose mandatory six-month delay before marriage

A story published today in the Flint Journal gave a word of warning to couples planning to have a church wedding in Linden, Michigan: expect to wait six months after your first appointment with the minister - and expect to participate in four counseling sessions before you tie the knot.

The Linden Ministerial Association is trying to combat the increasing divorce rate by adopting both policies, and most of the larger churches in town are adopting the new plan.

Divorce is on the rise in part because of "the silence of the Christian church," said the Rev. Larry Eckart, president of the association and pastor of Hope Lutheran Church. "We're trying to put more energy into the quality of relationships. It isn't going to happen until the churches take the bull by the horns."

The new program is intended to lessen the divorce rate and strengthen marriages, Eckart said.

The policy, which will be assessed annually, was created by an 11-person team from four denominations. Five Michigan communities - Grand Rapids, Adrian, Rockford, Port Huron and Traverse City - have adopted similar policies, Eckart said. A formal signing event will take place in the next few months for the Linden churches.

In addition to establishing waiting periods and requiring counseling, the Linden policy says the churches disagree with couples cohabiting together before marriage because "it is contrary to the Word of God, and couples who do this have a higher divorce rate than those who do not."

The Linden policy follows a movement developing across the country and advocated in the 1986 book Marriage Savers" by Michael McManus. McManus, with his wife, Harriet, started a national program, based in Potomac, Md., called Marriage Savers that helps churches organize and create premarital training.

The story says that McManus' basic tenet is that couples preparing for marriage need more than a quick session with a pastor. He advocates intensive counseling, pairing with a mentoring couple from the church and civil laws that require both.

"Except for the Catholic Church, which was the first to require six months of marriage preparation, and a few scattered congregations, when it comes to marriage, the church has pretty much just been a blessing machine," McManus said. "Couples tell the minister they'd like to be married in his church, maybe just because they'd like some nice pictures for the wedding album, and the minister gives them what I call a marriage chat, and that's it."

Michigan lawmakers debated a bill in 1996 that would have required premarital counseling. The House approved it, but the bill died in the Senate.

Eckart said communities adopting marriage preparation policies such as those advocated by McManus have seen divorce rates drop by as much as 20 percent.

The story says thst the policy adopted by the Linden churches also calls for mentor couples to work with the engaged and with troubled couples. Eckart will train those couples.

The Linden policy is similar to that of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing. The diocese requires a nine-month wait between the first interview with a priest and the wedding, said Sandy Millar, the diocese's director of family ministry.

The engaged couple also must:

Participate in a six-hour session on communication skills and working out conflicts.

Take an inventory conducted by sponsor couples to stimulate discussion on goals and values of the individuals and of the pending marriage.

Attend at least three classes on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.

The couple also meets several times with the sponsor couple to discuss possible trouble spots in the marriage.

Most of the churches in Linden already expect couples to take part in counseling, but the length of the waiting period has not previously been set, Eckart said.

He called the six-month period a guideline. It could be shortened in case of an emergency, such as one in the couple being sent overseas by the armed forces.

Studies have shown, he said, that poor communication causes nearly 60 percent of divorces.

"The churches in Linden believe it is time to re-examine whether 'we can't talk to each other' is a good reason to divorce or a good reason to learn how to talk to each other," Eckart said.

"Most couples know going into the relationships where the trouble spots are. They simply fail to do anything about them early on and the trouble spirals into the reasons for divorce."


Tax code contains more bonuses than penalties for married couples

A story published today in the Christian Science Monitor reports that Congress may pass a bill this year to ease the so-called "marriage penalty" in the tax code. The article says that under the current tax code almost an equal number of married couples gain tax bonuses as those who are penalized by marriage.

However, according to a story published on January 31, 2000 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, more married couples gain bonuses under the current code than are penalized by it. Some 51 percent of married couples enjoy tax breaks totaling an estimated $33 billion. The 42 percent of couples who suffer a marriage penalty pay about $29 billion a year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

"It's not a huge, bold, reforming plan. It's something they think they can agree on," says Claire Hintz, senior economist at the Tax Foundation, a tax-policy research organization here.

Moreover, the marriage penalty itself is not the big, clear-cut wrong it's built up to be, say tax experts from across the ideological spectrum.

Both the congressional GOP and White House plans unveiled in recent weeks, for example, clearly favor married couples at the expense of singles.

Historically, this marks another pendulum swing in a tax system that in recent decades has fluctuated between financially benefiting one of the two groups.

Today, couples endure a marriage penalty if they owe more income tax filing a joint return than if they were single and filed separately. About 25 million American couples, nearly half of those filing joint returns, incurred a marriage penalty last year, according to a Treasury Department report. The average penalty was $1,141. Two-earner couples, especially those where the spouses make similar incomes, are more likely to face penalties.

"It is terribly unfair that married couples pay higher taxes just because they're married," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R) of Texas. "There is absolutely no excuse why we can't [fix the marriage tax] ... for millions of married couples right now," he said.

But what politicians such as Representative Archer often do not point out is that an almost equal number of couples filing jointly, 21 million, enjoyed a marriage bonus last year, paying less than they would have if single.

The average bonus was $1,274, government figures show. Couples in which only one or neither spouse works are more likely to reap bonuses, and 80 percent of them did last year.

Both the Republican and White House plans would benefit not only couples who pay penalties, but also millions who now receive bonuses.

This, in turn, would exacerbate what some call the "singles' penalty," or unfair taxation for the unwed. Singles' penalties, already paid by more than 40 million unmarried filers in 1999, would "significantly increase" under the new tax plans, says the Treasury report.

The $182-billion, 10-year House Republican marriage-penalty relief bill, scheduled for a floor vote this week, would address some of the key causes of the marriage penalty: the standard deduction, rate brackets, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). On average, it would cut couples' taxes by about $450 a year.

About $66 billion of the cut would go to raising the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly to double that of single filers, an increase of $1,450 to $8,800 in 2000. The GOP bill would also devote more than $100 billion to a gradual expansion of the lowest tax bracket (15 percent) for couples filing jointly to twice that for single filers. When fully phased in, a couple could make up to $52,000 - compared with $43,850 this year - and still pay in the 15 percent bracket.

In contrast, President Clinton's marriage-penalty relief plan is smaller and less far-reaching, costing an estimated $45 billion over 10 years. It would also increase the standard deduction to twice that of single filers, but only for two-earner couples. Mr. Clinton also has a separate plan to raise the EITC earnings limit.

Democrats have criticized the Republican bill, especially the tax-bracket expansion, as too large and granting too many benefits to relatively wealthy couples. Compared with the GOP bill, the White House plan more narrowly targets low- and middle-income couples.


More married couples decide not to have kids, or to wait several years

A story published today in the Daily Southtown reports that a growing number of young married couples not ready to declare "and baby makes three."

According to the new survey "The Emerging 21st Century American Family," in 1973, 15.5 percent of people ages 30 to 35 had no children. In 1998, that figure had climbed to 28.5 percent.

"It's definitely true that people of this age group are much more likely not to have children as those in 1973," said Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey, conducted annually by University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center.

Another finding of the survey shows the percentage of U.S. households comprising married couples with children dropped from 45 percent in the 1970s to 26 percent in 1998. That number, however, includes empty-nesters.

"The big shift is from larger families to smaller families," Smith said, noting that more women have entered the work force in the past 25 years. "The child-free family is still not very popular. But it is very common to delay having children or having less."

 

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