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U.S. News Archive
December 14 - December 20, 2000



This page contains news for the period December 14, 2000 through December 20, 2000.  

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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Majority of public favors federal proposals that would benefit many single people

A story released today over the Internet Wire reports that a majority of Americans support a variety of legislative proposals that, if adopted by Congress, would work to the benefit of a wide range of single people.

For example, most Americans believe the estate tax is unfair and should be completely eliminated, according to the new Zogby's "American Values" Poll.  

In the survey, conducted December 15th through December 17th of 1,005 likely voters nationwide, 71% called the estate tax unfair to heirs and should be eliminated while only 19% said a large estate left to heirs should be taxed at a rate of 50% for anything over $1.2 million. Another 6.4% supported neither position and 4% were not sure.  The survey also showed that while 91% of those who voted for President Elect-George W. Bush supported elimination of the estate tax, so did 42% of those who voted for Vice President Al Gore.

Under current federal tax laws, a married person who dies may leave an unlimited amount of wealth to a surviving spouse without any tax being imposed whatsoever.  However, when a single person dies, the federal government can take up to 60 percent of the value of the estate.  The repeal of the so-called "death tax" would eliminate marital status discrimination from the federal estate tax by removing the tax altogether.  This would be a boon to wealthy single people.

Zogby's "American Values" polls are conducted quarterly to probe the strength of fundamental values held by Americans, and to determine what will ultimately have the greatest influences on their behavior. This is the fourth in a series of Zogby's "American Values" surveys. The survey has a margin of sampling error of +/-3.2%.

The new survey also found majority support for an increase in the minimum wage and little concern for the ability of small business to absorb the hike. More than half (55%) the respondents agree that a gradual $1 increase in the minimum wage over a three-year span would benefit low-income families and help get people off welfare rolls.  In comparison, 36% oppose the minimum wage hike on the grounds that raising minimum pay would hurt small businesses unable to afford larger payrolls and result in a decrease in the number of people hired for entry-level positions. An overwhelming 89% of Gore supporters agreed with the majority
regarding a hike in the minimum wage, compared to 29% of the Bush supporters.

Studies have shown that most people earning the minimum wage are unmarried.  Therefore an increase in the minimum wage will benefit lower-income single people.

A majority of respondents favor partial privatization of social security benefits.   Nearly 59% support employees being allowed to invest up to 2% of their Social Security taxes in stocks and bonds, compared to 37% who say being allowed to invest a percentage of their Social Security taxes is too risky. An overwhelming 89% of Bush supporters agreed with the majority on the right to invest Social Security taxes compared to 22% of Gore supporters. 

This plan, proposed by president-elect George W. Bush during the presidential campaign, would help middle-income single people who pay the same percentage into social security under current law but receive fewer benefits than married workers.  Married employees tend to live longer and therefore collect more benefits in the long run than do unmarried workers.  Also, when a married worker dies, his or her spouse can collect survivor benefits, but when a single worker dies his or her benefits are forfeited to the fund.  Under the Bush proposal, the private portion of a benefits plan of a single worker could be passed on to a named beneficiary or to heirs.


Sunday, December 17, 2000

Kansas paper issues editorial against tighter single-family zoning rules

An editorial in today's edition of the Journal World, a local newspaper in Laurence, Kansas, criticized a proposed ordinance that would restrict the number of unrelated adults who may live together in an area zoned for single-family use.  

The pending bill would lower that number from four unrelated people to two.   It will have an adverse effect on many unmarried people who want to share a residence for economic or personal reasons, especially unmarried couples with children, college students, and seniors.

If city commissioner are not careful, they may find that an unduly restrictive law may be declared unconstitutional by the courts.  In many states, such as California, New York, and New Jersey, Supreme Court decisions have held that unrelated people have a constitutional right to live together and that zoning laws that prohibit them from doing so are invalid.

Here is the full text of the editorial:

Will ordinances reducing the number of unrelated people allowed to live in a house in a single-family zone have the effect city commissioners hope for? It's easy to understand the frustration of local residents who bought a house years ago in an established single-family neighborhood, only to find themselves now living in an area dotted with rental houses, many of which are home to three, four or more unrelated people.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the solutions being pursued by Lawrence city commissioners will have the desired effect in these neighborhoods. The arguments that residents have made to city commissioners resonate with most local homeowners. The decline in traditional families in these areas affect the viability of schools and skew property values. Rental houses that can accommodate three or four people are revenue-producing properties that have a much higher value to investors. That market drives housing prices in the neighborhood up and perhaps out of the range of young families who might want to purchase a home there.

Many of the areas in question are close to Kansas University, although the same circumstances could easily affect other Lawrence neighborhoods as they age and change. The difference in lifestyles between families with children and university students spurs conflicts within neighborhoods, and the current discussions about how many unrelated people can live in a house in a single-family zone have offended some students. Pressure on neighborhoods may increase if rising rates in KU residence halls prompt more students to seek off-campus housing.

To address these concerns, city commissioners agreed Tuesday to draw up an ordinance to lower the number of unrelated people that will be allowed to live in a house in a single-family neighborhood from four to two. Accurately noting that such an ordinance would have little effect if it is not adequately enforced, commissioners also ordered an accompanying ordinance requiring local landlords to register their properties with the city.

Although the spirit of these two measures is admirable, it still is difficult to see how they can be fairly and stringently enforced. As one landlord pointed out after Tuesday's meeting, irresponsible landlords will do their best to avoid registering their property. And tenants, no doubt, will do their best to circumvent restrictions on the number of people living in a house.

What's to keep two people from signing a lease as the only official tenants of a property and then allowing additional people to live there? And what restrictions can be placed on guests, especially overnight guests? Even if only two people are actually registered as living in a house, that doesn't necessarily mean that a large number of guests wouldn't create the same sort of noise, trash and traffic problems that single-family neighbors now complain about.

Myriad modern family situations also will complicate enforcement. Would an unmarried couple with one child each constitute four "unrelated" people, or is it OK as long as everyone is related to someone? Will landlords be solely responsible for monitoring the situation?

It also will be interesting to see in the years to come what effect these ordinances have on neighborhoods. Will housing prices fall because rental revenue declines? Will traditional families then be able to move into these neighborhoods and support the schools there or will they still choose to live elsewhere?

To be fair, city officials should monitor the neighborhoods to see if the ordinances are having the desired effect. Hopefully, they will. City commissioners' hearts are in the right place with this effort to stabilize single-family neighborhoods. Time will tell whether these ordinances will achieve that goal or simply prove to be a needless burden on renters and landlords.

Cincinnati's marriage rate and divorce rates decline, causing rippling effects in society

A story published today in the Cincinnati Enquirer focused on the state of matrimony in the greater Cincinnati area.  The story says:

• Fewer people say “I do” than did 20 years ago — and far fewer people divorce.

• People wait until their late 20s and early 30s to exchange vows, resulting in a stunning 85 percent drop in teen marriages.

• More than half the women who had babies in 1998 did it alone — forgoing marriage altogether.

An Enquirer analysis of  more than 14,000 Hamilton County marriage licenses in 1979 and 1999 revealed a dramatic shift in when and if people decide to marry. At a time when family values top social and political agendas, the city that prides itself as a family kind of place is undergoing profound change.

The analysis found marriage rates fell 23 percent in two decades, compared to a 20-percent national decline. Divorce dropped 45 percent, three times faster than the decline nationally.

These changing marriage patterns redefine the concept of the modern family in our neighborhoods and impact almost every part of our lives, from health and childcare to consumer spending and poverty levels.

“We're in the middle of a massive shift about what marriage means and what role it plays in people's lives,” says Dorian Solot, executive director of the Boston-based Alternatives to Marriage Project.

“Images we have of what adult life is about often center on marriage,” she says. But as Americans increasingly postpone marriage — or skip it entirely — “we need to update these visions of adulthood.”

The Enquirer's analysis found only 64 of 5,781 marriages in 1999 involved teens 15 to 19 years old. That's an 85 percent drop in twenty years.

Instead, many young adults in Hamilton County are postponing — or even shunning — marriage to compete in the work force. The changing labor market requires young adults to have more education, skills and work experience than previous generations to snag the best-paying jobs. They put in longer hours and frequently job-hop to the next bigger and better position.

The story points out that dramatic changes in the lives of women also account for the shift in marital trends. Accessible contraception means they can delay pregnancy. More women than ever work outside the home, giving them financial success and stability that marriage formerly provided.

Women don't have to marry to have the money to buy a house and car or even to raise a child. They're earning it themselves.

“Women don't want some guy who's a slob who just brings home the bacon. Women don't have to put up with that kind of guy today,” says Dr. David Popenoe, a sociology professor and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New York.

As a result, the average age of a groom in Hamilton County last year was 33, up 4 1/2 years from 1979. Brides were an average of 31 years old, also a 4 1/2-year jump during the same period. First-time brides and grooms waited an average of four years longer.

Some psychologists have coined a phrase, “emerging adulthood,” to mean the time between living with your parents and running your own family.

In 1950, only 2 percent of young adults 18 to 29 were not living within a family. Today it's closer to 25 percent.

Courtship and cohabitation patterns are also changing.  Today the majority of couples who marry lived together first, says Dr. Steven Nock, a sociologist and statistician at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Census figures show cohabitation increased 164 percent since 1980. To better track the numbers, the census bureau added to its 1990 form a circle for unmarried partner.

"Young people are more realistic than their parents about the chances of a successful marriage," says Ms. Solot of Alternatives to Marriage.

“They want to enter into marriages with care,” she says. “I think unmarried relationships are a way of slowing things down and making sure you're not rushing into something prematurely.”

As a result, cohabitation has evolved into a major trend, Ms. Solot says.

“There's a recognition that you don't need to be married to have a healthy or fulfilling life,” she says. “People see marriage isn't a magic cloak they can put on and be protected.”

The Enquirer surveyed Xavier University students taking a course on marriage and family. Three-quarters of the 53 students who responded said they would consider living with an unmarried partner. Only seven felt living together was morally wrong.

The students primarily were 19, 20 or 21 years old.

Just under half of the students said living together is a good way to test whether a marriage will work. Experts say the notion of “trying out” a marriage is driving much of the increase in cohabitation.

But Dr. Nock says it's a risky strategy.

“There's no debate among anybody who does research ... living together increases chances for divorce,” he says. The most conservative estimates show people who live together before marrying are three times as likely to divorce than those who do not cohabit.

The question researchers are still trying to determine, Dr. Nock says, is whether “people who live together also tend to divorce or does living together precipitate divorce?”

Single parenthood is also on the rise.

In Hamilton County, 40 percent of the children born in 1998 were to unwed mothers. In the city of Cincinnati, the percentage was 58. And it's not teen pregnancy driving the increase. In Cincinnati, unwed mothers in 1979 accounted for only 23 percent of all mothers ages 22 to 34. By 1998, 45 percent of mothers ages 22 to 34 were unwed.

What is clear is that marriage is less tied to child-rearing today than in the past. In the 1930s, if you conceived a child out of wedlock, you got married. Today, that's not a given. A 1999 U.S. Census report says the percentage of children conceived out of wedlock was nearly the same in the 1930s as in the 1990s. The difference: Children born out of wedlock increased fivefold.

The combination of out-of-wedlock births and divorces translates into nearly 50 percent of white children and two-thirds of African-American children who are likely to spend some part of their childhood in a single-parent family, according to a report in the November edition of the Journal of Marriage and the Family. The latest census figures show nearly a third of children live with a single parent.

Women are marrying more for love than need, says Andrea Engber, who founded the National Organization of Single Mothers in 1991 in North Carolina.

“Rather than settling for Mr. Adequate, women are waiting for Mr. Right,” Ms. Engber says. Women don't want to take care of an immature husband and a newborn baby.

The combination of postponing marriage, living together and having children out-of-wedlock has spurred tremendous change in the dynamics of the American family.

Ms. Solot calls for new legislation to reflect changing families. Unmarried couples need protection from discrimination, she says. Health care is difficult to obtain for men and women who live together and, in many areas, landlords legally can refuse to rent to unmarried couples.

“In this most recent presidential campaign, I heard a lot of talk about families,” Ms. Solot says. “We need to rewrite our definitions of family, given that a smaller and smaller percentage of families are structured around marriage.”

A shift toward fewer married couples could alter the political landscape, Dr. Nock says. Married people tend to be more conservative. Consider the presidential election. A Portrait of America exit poll showed married voters leaned toward George W. Bush while single voters chose Al Gore.

Already, today there are more singles in the population than ever before, Dr. Nock says.

In 1960, three out of four households contained a married couple. Today, it's little more than half. The rate of American households with single men or women has risen from 26 to 31 percent from 1980 to 1997.

In a society with a growing number of childless singles, it could be harder to get a school levy passed, Dr. Popenoe says. It stands to reason, he says, that the fewer people with families, the less the concern about children. Likewise, legislation on child safety or school reform might have a lower priority.

Shifts in marriage trends also could affect consumer spending and the economy, says Dr. George Vredeveld,
director of the University of Cincinnati's Center for Economic Education.

Single people tend to spend more on leisure activities. They go out to eat more often, to the movies, to the theater. Even housing demands could be affected.

“Non-married people would tend to opt for a different kind of housing, smaller housing, than the Brady Bunch would,” he says.

Dr. Robert Emery, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Children, Families and the Law, maps the benefits and the downsides to the marriage trends.

Changing attitudes toward marriage afford more opportunity to escape an unfulfilling relationship and allow people to assume different roles in life, including unmarried partner, single parent or spouse.

On the downside, he says, unmarried couples can expect to face more economic troubles, and children often face more struggles.

“It's not the end of society or the downfall of society,” Dr. Emery says. “It's a change in practice and tradition, a change in values.”


Thursday, December 14, 2000

New law in Atlanta prohibits marital status discrimination

A story published today in Planet Out reports that Atlanta, Georgia Mayor Bill Campbell on December 12
signed into law a new ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on age, disability, gender, race, religion, family status, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The law extends the city's existing civil rights protections to a broader range of public accommodations and for the first time to private-sector as well as city employment. It also strengthens enforcement both by clarifying the role of the city's Human Rights Commission and by establishing discrimination as grounds for civil lawsuits in Atlanta Municipal Court.

The author of the bill, City Councilmember Cathy Woolard said in a statement, "All of Atlanta's citizens deserve equal protection from unfair discrimination in all of its forms and that is what this inclusive law is about. Those who supported this common-sense measure can be proud of this triumph for all of Atlanta. This legislation, which brings our non-discrimination ordinances in line with other major cities across the country, is a tribute to our city's core values of fairness and equality."

Seeking election to the City Council Presidency in 2001, Woolard became Georgia's first openly lesbian or gay elected official in 1997.

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