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U.S. News Archive
May 21 - May 28, 2001



This page contains news for the period May 21, 2001 through May 28, 2001.  

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Monday, May 28, 2001

Divorce still makes children feel alone

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the University of Chicago's biennial General Social Survey, taken last year, found that more than a fifth of children in surveyed households lived in single-parent homes -- a fourfold increase since the first survey in 1972. The 2000 Census found a similar trend.

Lauren is one of those children.

Most of the time, she lives with her mother just outside Traverse City, a Lake Michigan resort town that is home to about 78,000 people. She's with her dad, a doctor who lives nearby, on Wednesday nights and many weekends.

``We both get a lot of special one-on-one time with her,'' says Lauren's mother, Kim Coleman, a pediatrician. ``So that's been one good thing to come out of a difficult situation.''

Still, in the last year, Coleman has noticed Lauren worrying more about what people think, setting off those familiar butterflies or a case of the ``angries'' when the divorce, or her father's more recent split from his second wife, come up.

``When it bothers you,'' Lauren says, sitting on her bed at her mom's house, ``it bothers you a lot.''

However, there are those children who say divorce has actually improved their lives.

``At first, it was the most horrible thing,'' says 14-year-old Tori Schemelia, who lives in East Windsor, N.J., with her father and his new wife. Now, says her 10-year-old sister, Emily, ``there's no yelling at all.''

With the growing number of children going through divorce today, experts say services for them are sorely lacking, especially in a legal system known for pitting parent against parent.

Andrew Schepard, director of the Center for Children, Families and Law at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island, helped found a court-based program in his county that is one of a small but growing number that provide social workers and therapists specifically for children of divorcing parents.

The many children from divorced families she was seeing in her medical practice -- and the lack of coordinated services -- also inspired Lauren's mom to help set up the Divorce Resource Center in Traverse City 18 months ago.

She hopes what's starting as an information hot line will grow into a nonprofit center with everything from neutral space for parents to exchange children to bus service to the local women's shelter.

``Divorce is a part of our culture,'' Coleman says. ``We can either pretend it isn't there, or we can provide resources for people who are trying to make that transition.''

Among other things, the center tracks services for children, including a support group at one elementary school for students whose parents have split. Students at Sabin Elementary call it the ``divorce club.''

To get them talking, social worker Deb Newhouse sometimes hands students a backpack full of rocks painted with the names of feelings and emotions that may be weighing them down.

``I'm always amazed how much they know what that is,'' Newhouse says.

In the end, kids often find they share the same worries.

``They want their parents to get along. They want to know it's not their fault,'' she says. ``And they want to know that even though the family looks different, they'll be taken care of.''

One of the big things on Lauren's mind lately is her mother's upcoming marriage in August.

She admits that she's having trouble sharing her mom with her new boyfriend. And she says she's also trying to give up a longtime dream: that her parents will get back together.

``It's like wanting a doll that costs a billion dollars,'' Lauren says.

Her mom is aware of Lauren's feeling -- and divorce statistics. A new federal study found that nearly 40 percent of second marriages for women end in separation or divorce within 10 years.

But she's optimistic her new marriage will give Lauren the sense of family she's been craving.

``I used to feel so bad for Lauren. I mean, my dad used to come home and give my mom a hug and a kiss. They've always been so respectful of one another,'' Coleman says.

``I want Lauren to know what that's like. And I think she will -- I really do.''

Advertisers slow to target nontraditional families

A story published today by the Wall Street Journal reports that corporate America is catching on to the changing makeup of the United States household, but it's moving gingerly to avoid appearing condescending or even irritating to the very consumers it wants to reach.

The traditional family -- married couples with children younger than 18 years -- constituted only 23.5 percent of all United States households in 2000, according to new census data. Such families represented 30.2 percent of households in 1980 and 45 percent in 1960.

Madison Avenue is now hungry to tap the groups that now make up the other 76.5 percent of United States households which are comprised of single parents, unmarried couples, divorced or never-married individuals and older married couples whose kids no longer live at home. But marketers are cautious because they haven't figured out which products lend themselves to such targeted pitches. 

The number of single mothers, for example, soared 25 percent in the past decade to 7.6 million, but "most companies are advertising toward married moms," says Stan Dragoti, a partner at Omnicom Group Inc.'s Moss/Dragoti. Commercials by the New York agency for Hertz and Dannon water, for instance, will feature kids and the traditional married-parents family structure.

One company bucking the trend is Charles Schwab Corp. In January, Schwab debuted a TV commercial featuring Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and a divorced mom, is heard telling a little girl a bedtime story about a beautiful young lady who is whisked away by a knight to a castle, married and given all her heart's desires, "forever and ever."

The ad ends with a shot of Ferguson quipping: "Of course, if it doesn't work out, you'll need to understand the difference between a P/E ratio and a dividend yield, a growth versus a value strategy" -- a plug for Schwab's online stock research.

Schwab is eager to reach single women because they have heightened interest in financial strategies, says Jack Calhoun, senior vice president for advertising and brand management at Schwab. "Sarah Ferguson has a real-life story that people can relate to and a life change that requires you to take control of your financial situations and build your confidence," he says. "Anybody can relate to that life change and needing to take control."

Advertisers, however, are willing to go only so far in experimenting with their messages in fear of a social backlash. When John Hancock Financial Services ran an ad last year with a lesbian couple bringing an adopted baby back from China, the company didn't include shots of the couple kissing.

Tony Kaye, the commercial's director, says there's a good reason why most companies still strive to show nuclear families in TV spots: "If someone wants to buy a red pair of socks, it doesn't matter what they are -- married, single or part of a family." Deviating from what society still perceives to be typical family might distract from the product -- the socks.

The new census data clearly show the continuing transformation of American family life. The number of unmarried couples living together, for instance, soared 72 percent during the 1990s to 5.5 million households. Their numbers, though, are still small compared with the 54.5 million households headed by married couples, and other government surveys have showed a slowing in the trends away from traditional families in the latter years of the '90s.

Young & Rubicam, a unit of London-based WPP Group PLC, made advertising history in 1997 when it developed the "Beaches" commercial to help AT&T promote its wireless business. The ad showed a harried, working mom paying little attention to her three children as she prepares for her day. After she tells them she has an important meeting with a client, one of her little girls asks: "Mom, when can I be a client?" She thinks, then tells the kids to put on their swimsuits, then conducts a meeting via cell phone from the beach.

Jim Ferguson, president and chief creative officer at Y&R New York, says such work remains the exception, noting, "There aren't a lot of companies gearing their efforts to single moms and unmarried couples."

Sunday, May 27, 2001

Treasury department prepares for disbursement of rebate checks

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that with President Bush poised to order rebates for nearly 100 million taxpayers, the Treasury Department is preparing a customized computer program that will sort through Internal Revenue Service records and issue checks ranging from $300 to $600, most by the end of September

The $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut package Bush intends to sign during the first week of June is retroactive to the beginning of the year, and the rebates are to adjust for overpayment. They reflect the first year of a new 10 percent income tax rate on the initial $6,000 of an individual's income, $12,000 for married couples.

Married couples will get checks for $600; single parents will receive $500; and single taxpayers will get $300

When lawmakers and the White House began discussing the possibility of refunds as a quick economic stimulus, the Treasury Department quietly began preparing for a burst of check-writing activity. Still, it will take up to four months to complete the process, officials said

Bush and many lawmakers were eager to send as much money back to taxpayers as quickly as possible, arguing that doing so could boost the economy. The rebate checks, along with decreasing tax withholdings, will also allow the tax-cut advocates to claim victory as they look ahead to next year's elections.

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Majority of Americans view pre-marital sex and divorce as morally okay

A story released by the Gallup News Service reports that while it is not exactly becoming extinct, the American nuclear family of the "Ozzie and Harriet" days is in decline. Since 1960, the percentage of households comprised of a married couple with children has fallen from 45% to 24%. Just in the past decade, the number of "nonfamily" households rose at twice the rate of family households. Similarly, the percentage of single-mother families rose three times as fast as married-couple families according to the recently released 2000 Census report.

In order to determine the rate of nuclear families in the U.S. population, Gallup poll focused on values and beliefs that would shed light on how Americans feel about marriage, the desired number of children in the family, and the concept of divorce.

The change in viewing pre-marital sex

In the days when pre-marital sex was taboo, many couples had at least one powerful incentive to marry. This may have been the case in 1969 when Gallup found that premarital sex was frowned upon by two-thirds of Americans, while only 21% felt these relations were acceptable. Today, according to a May 10-14 Gallup poll, only 38% of U.S. adults say it is wrong for a man and a woman to have sexual relations before marriage, while 60% of those polled disagree.

Americans even went a step further, with a majority, 52%, sanctioning "living together" as a morally acceptable lifestyle. Less than half, 41%, hold on to the "living in sin" belief, saying it is morally unacceptable for an unmarried couple to live together; 3% think it depends on the situation, and 2% say it is not a moral issue.

Changing the size of the family unit

In addition to liberalized sexual mores, there has been a change in family size expectations that may partially account for people marrying later in life. According to Gallup trends dating back 65 years, there has been a substantial decline in Americans’’ preferences for large families.

Today, the majority (52%) say that less than three children is ideal, while 38% prefer larger families of three or more children. Between 1967 and 1973 the percentage favoring three or more children fell from 70% to 43%. Preference for smaller families continued to grow until 1986 when it peaked at 66%, after which it declined somewhat.

Divorce socially accepted by most

When married couples run into hard times today there appears to be relatively little pressure to force them to stay together. Nearly three in five Americans, 59%, tell Gallup that they think divorce is morally acceptable, and another 12% say it depends on the situation. Only 28% feel divorce is morally unacceptable.

Marriage still a common practice

In spite of these forces that might be responsible for weakening the institution of marriage, the vast majority of Americans (75%) tell Gallup that they have been married at some point in their life, and a majority (52%) are currently married. Only one in 14 adults (7%) is currently living together with a partner. According to a recent Gallup poll, about twelve percent of Americans are divorced and another three percent are separated. However, this doesn’’t fully capture the rate of failed marriages, as many who were divorced in the past may have remarried and would be recorded as currently married in Gallup’’s survey.

Among those Gallup respondents who report having a child under 18, 66% are currently married -- representing 23% of all Americans. Another 23% of parents are either divorced or have never been married, while 8% are currently living together with a partner

Georgia's, Clayton county single employees granted death benefits

A story published today by the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the retirement income for Georgia's Clayton County single employees can now become a death benefit for designated beneficiaries, but on a more limited basis than benefits received by surviving spouses.

The County Commission last week approved a major revamp of the county's pension plan. In addition to the beneficiary provision for single employees, the amended plan lowers the normal retirement age from 65 to 60.

County Attorney Don Comer said the previous pension document allowed married employees to choose from several options for disposition of benefits from the retirement system after death. But the only benefit received by the estate of a single employee was a return of the employee's pension plan contribution amount. Now the plan allows designated beneficiaries of unmarried employees to receive pension benefit checks based on provisions of one option available to married employees.

Married employees, Comer explained, may choose one of three options for retirement death benefits. First, they may choose a plan that continues retirement checks to a spouse for up to five years after the employee's death, Comer said. This is the only plan now offered for single employees, he said.

Under that option, if the retiree dies six years after retirement, "that's the end of it," whether the employee was married or single, said Comer.

Clayton County has had a pension plan since 1971, but the last major revision was in 1995, Comer said.

CDC study shows that first marriages are more likely to fail

A story released today by CNN News reports that a report released by the the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 43 percent of first marriages end in separation or divorce with in 15 years.The report from the Atlanta based group also showed that one in three first marriages end within 10 years and one in five end within five years.

In the CDC report, how long a marriage lasted appeared to be linked to how old the woman in the relationship was when the marriage began. Researchers said the older a woman was when she first got married, the longer that marriage was likely to last.

For example, 59 percent of marriages to brides under 18 end in separation or divorce within 15 years, compared with 36 percent of those married at age 20 or older.

CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan said the numbers are significant to the health-care field because separation and divorce can adversely affect the health of both adults and children.

"Past research has shown that divorce is associated with higher rates of mortality, more health problems, and more risky behaviors such as increased alcohol use," he said.

Other conclusions of the report included:

 • About 97 percent of separated non-Hispanic white women are divorced within five years of separation, compared with 77 percent of separated Hispanic women and only 67 percent of non-Hispanic black women.

 • Younger women who divorce are more likely to remarry: 81 percent of those divorced before age 25 remarry within 10 years, compared with 68 percent of those divorced at age 25 or later.

 • Non-Hispanic black women are less likely than other women to remain in a first marriage, to make the transition from separation to divorce, to remarry, and to remain in a remarriage.

"These data offer an important glimpse into the social fabric of this country," said Dr. Edward Sondik, director of CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, which conducted the study. "The implications of divorce cut across a number of societal issues, socioeconomics, health, and the welfare of our children."

The findings are based on data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, a study of 10,847 women 15 to 44 years of age.

Key provisions of the Senate tax-relief package

An article published today by the Seattle Times highlights the Senate's tax-relief package that is currently being debated in the Senate floor. The following key provision on the tax relief package  are:

Tax rates
• New 10 percent tax rate created retroactive to 2001. Applies to the first $6,000 of taxable income for single people, $12,000 for the married couples filing jointly.

• Other rates drop 1 percentage point each in 2002, 2005 and 2007. Rates drop from 39.6 percent to 36 percent; 36 percent to 33 percent; 31 percent to 28 percent; 28 percent to 25 percent.

• 15 percent rate remains the same.

Marriage penalty
• Standard deduction for married couples will be gradually raised so it is equal to twice that of single taxpayers. If in effect this year, the deduction would be $9,100 instead of $7,600 for a married couple.

• 15 percent tax bracket will be gradually enlarged so it applies to more of a married couple's income, equal to twice that of singles. If fully in effect this year, the lowest tax rate would apply to $54,100 of a couple's income instead of $45,200.

• Income limit for earned-income-tax credit expanded by $3,000.

Estate tax
• Tax repealed in 2011.

• Top 55 percent rate immediately dropped to 50 percent, eventually to 45 percent.

• Current $675,000 individual exemption raised to $1 million in 2002, $2 million in 2004, $3 million in 2006, $4 million in 2010.

• Tax retained on certain gifts but rate reduced to 40 percent.

• Tax-favored contribution limits for individual retirement accounts and Roth IRAs gradually raised from $2,000 to $5,000. No change in income limits.

• Tax-deferred contribution limits for 401(k)-type plans gradually increased from $10,500 to $15,000.

• Lower-income people get credit for half of contributions up to $2,000.

• Maximum $5,000 deduction for higher-education tuition lowered to $2,000 for incomes between $130,000 and $160,000. Phases out above that level.

• Limit on deductibility of student-loan interest removed.

Child credit
• Child credit rises from $500 to $600 effective in 2001, meaning it could be claimed on next year's tax forms. Rises in $100 increments to $1,000 by 2010. Income limits stay the same.

• Taxpayers earning more than $10,000 could claim a credit of 15 percent of earnings above that income level. They cannot claim the credit now.

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Congress debates government involvement in marriage

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Congress dove into the sensitive issue on whether the government should interfere in the personal lives of welfare recipients by encouraging marriage.

Two points appeared clear during a hearing Tuesday before a House Ways and Means subcommittee: Children who grow up in two-parent families are better off, and government knows very little about what it can do to encourage unwed parents to walk down the aisle.

A 1996 welfare overhaul specifically listed promoting marriage and encouraging the formation of two-parent families among its goals, but with minimal data and little public consensus about the role of government, few states have used their welfare money to this end.

Conservatives in the Bush administration, in Congress and in think tanks are suggesting that Congress should require states to spend some of their money promoting marriage or at least set aside some dollars for experimental programs.

``When we look at the tremendous negative effects of children growing up in broken homes, it behooves us to move expeditiously,'' said Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources.

He added that while more investigation is needed, he finds considerable interest among his colleagues. ``I hear a lot of enthusiasm for moving forward,'' he said.

Democrats at Tuesday's hearing were considerably more cautious.

``We need to be honest about the lack of information we have,'' said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.

Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., questioned whether states would want the federal government telling them how they have to spend their money.

Arizona and Oklahoma, however, have used welfare money to create pro-marriage programs. Both programs are in their early stages, and it's unclear how effective they will be.

``The mission of welfare reform should be to reduce poverty and help people achieve economic independence,'' said Laurie Rubiner of the National Partnership for Women &Families, ``not to engage in social engineering or discrimination against families that don't meet a particular ideal.''

Monday, May 21, 2001

The new face of the American family

A news story article published today by Newsweek reports that according to the newly released census report, the number of families headed by single mothers has increased  25 percent since 1990, to more than 7.5 million households.

Demographers now predict that more than half of the children born in the 1990's will spend at least part of their childhood in a single-parent environment. The census also indicated that the number of single fathers raising kids on their own is on the rise; they now head just over 2 million families.

Politicians from the White House on down, on the other hand, have been focusing on strengthening families and the institution of marriage. President George W. Bush believes that funding religious initiatives is one way Washington can foster family stability. Some states, such as Arizona and Louisiana, have established "covenant" marriages in which engaged couples are required to get premarital counseling.

"We can encourage, pressure, preach and give incentives to get people to marry," says Stephanie Coontz, author of "The Way We Never Were" and a family historian at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. "But still we have to deal with the reality that kids are going to be raised in a variety of ways, and we have to support all kinds of families with kids."

To read the full story please go to: http://www.msnbc.com./news/575968.asp

Divorce rates soar in bible belt states

A story published today by the Contra Costa Times reports that a posse of public health nurses, social workers, pastors and extension agents have been deputized to help bring down a divorce rate in Oklahoma. The governor, the Baptist leadership and the anti-divorce movement are collectively struggling to avert collisions between naive notions of wedded bliss and the reality of marriage.

It has been about four years since politicians here and in several other states began to acknowledge a troubling paradox: The divorce rate in much of the area where evangelical Christianity is particularly strong is roughly 50 percent above the national average.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, declared a "marital emergency" in 1999 and vowed to curb the divorce rate in half by 2010.

He signed a covenant marriage law last month that allows couples to choose a marital contract that, in most cases, would require a two-year waiting period before a divorce became final. Louisiana has enacted similar laws, as has Arizona.

In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating, also a Republican, diagnosed divorce as a principal cause of poverty in his state.

He started a much publicized, multipronged campaign, paid for with $10 million in federal welfare money, to cut the divorce rate by one-third in 10 years.

The Oklahoma Legislature, controlled by Democrats, has all but killed the governor's proposals for covenant marriage and the removal of mutual incompatibility as grounds for divorce.

But it has passed several of his other proposals, measures that call for creating a statewide network for premarital education and for training secular and religious marriage counselors.

"Seventy percent of our people go to church once a week or more," Keating said. "These divorce statistics are a scalding indictment of what isn't being said behind the pulpit."

The Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention in Oklahoma, agreed.

"We are responsible," he said. "We are good in helping young people plan a wedding, but not in planning a marriage. And in our desire to be compassionate to those who are going through a divorce, the church has watered down a strong message in regard to the ills and sins of divorce."

Despite the efforts of the last several years, the institution of marriage is losing ground by some measures. The census found that in the 1990s the number of unmarried couples living together jumped by 97 percent in Oklahoma, 125 percent in Arkansas and 123 percent in Tennessee.

These increases in the heart of the area are well above the 72 percent increase in unmarried couples that the census found in the nation as a whole.

For the first time, the census showed that married couples with children made up less than a quarter of the U.S. population (23.5 percent). In Oklahoma, the percentage of such nuclear families was fractionally lower (23.2 percent).

"Those numbers are a total reflection of marriage as an institution that is losing its appeal," said Jerry Regier, Oklahoma's secretary of health and human services. "Our society has been overwhelmed by divorce."

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