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U.S. News Archive
March 14 - March 20, 2002



This page contains news for the period March 14, 2002 through March 20, 2002.  

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Wednesday, March 20, 2002


Stay-at-Home parents: invisible and unpaid laborers of the nation?

A story released today by Fox News.com reports that for first-time mom Kathy Kogut, 34, isn't always sure she's adequately meeting the challenge and responsibility of new motherhood.

She would like to stay at home a year or so and thinks her family could get by on her husband's pay check for a while, but the impact on retirement savings, Social Security contributions and her future earning potential would be disastrous, she said.

Her company has no written policy that would hold her job as a software applications consultant. In any case, she said, "If I were to stay out of my job for more than six months, I would be obsolete."

In Ann Crittenden’s book entitled, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, she describes stay-at-home mothers as the nation's "invisible" and "unpaid" laborers whose work needs to be better recognized.

"Women have not made it clear to the world that the work we do [in the home] is tremendously important," said Crittenden. "We got the right to be hired. We won respect professionally. Now we need respect for raising kids."

Crittenden's proposals have found supporters and critics in unexpected places. The harshest critics thus far: childless workers who feel the family-friendly trend has already spiraled out of control.

The childless workers argue they get stuck with benefits packages they can't use, pay high taxes to supplement family tax breaks and are ignored by politicians. Another journalist, Elinor Burkett, championed this cause in her book Baby Boon two years ago.

"It's favoring some over others because it's good social policy for the country," said Thomas Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People. Coleman said such policies leave single workers with part of the tab for people's personal choice to have children.

Coleman believes employers should offer "cafeteria-style" benefits that allow workers to pick and choose as they need.

Depending on your political bent, Crittenden's proposals can sound a lot like old-fashioned welfare, affirmative action and giant entitlement programs — funded by taxpayers and enforced in the courts.

"It's basically asking that social welfare programs be incorporated into the private sector," Coleman said. "I don't think that's the job of business."

Many of Crittenden's ideas are based on policies in place in Western Europe and Canada. Sweden, for example, provides 12 months of parental leave for new parents, and allows parents of children under eight to work 80 percent of a regular work schedule.

"Everyone is always saying, 'Oh, what's wrong with kids,'" Kogut said. "It's because parents are so busy working they don't know what's going on."

There's no doubt the workplace has become more family friendly since Crittenden left her job at the New York Times.

While the Family Medical Leave Act of 1996 requires companies with 50 or more employees to grant 12 weeks of leave for the birth of a child (it does not mandate companies pay for this time), many companies have acted on their own to establish flexible work schedules, job-sharing, telecommuting arrangements, and longer leaves.

"It all has to do with recruiting and retaining talent," said Jim Sinocchi, a spokesperson for IBM. Big Blue allows employees to take up to three years of unpaid leave and has pioneered flexible scheduling and telecommuting, with 30 percent of employees now working off-site.

"We believe that if we offer a flexible work-life package, they'll come and they'll stay," Sinocchi said.




Making room for daddy in a family

A story published today by the Tennessean reports that sociology professor David Popenoe believes that while a huge body of research indicates an overwhelming advantage for children with the everyday presence of their biological father in their lives, he finds today's popular culture is exerting a big negative impact.

''The institution of marriage continues to weaken, pulling the stability of family life down with it,'' said Popenoe, a professor at Rutgers University, and a co-director of the National Marriage Project.

''We have not turned that corner yet. Popular culture today is anti-child and anti-family, and it's hard to think that's going to change anytime soon. When it comes to the importance of fatherhood, I think the research often has stated the obvious — and society has chosen to overlook it.''

Popenoe will be one of three featured speakers at the annual Conference on Family Wellness at Lipscomb University running Sunday-Tuesday. The theme this year, ''Men and Families,'' is designed to both raise awareness and strengthen the ties of fathers and children, according to the conference's director.

''Anything you wouldn't want to happen to a child has a much greater chance of happening if the father is not present in a child's life,'' said Dr. John Conger, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Lipscomb.

''As many as 40% of children in this country today do not live with their dads. They don't live with any dad, much less their biological fathers, and many don't even know who their fathers are. And the effects are striking.''

When fathers are both directly and actively involved in their children's lives, Popenoe and Conger point out, research indicates the children do better academically, lead healthier lifestyles and have fewer behavioral problems.

Yet both men stress they do not want to be seen as criticizing single mothers. Instead, they merely hope to emphasize the benefits of involved, present fathers.

''At the very least, you have another pair of eyes and hands to help with the work, and another adult there to give support and guidance,'' Conger said.

''I think almost any single mom would say they have their work cut out for themselves, and that most would say they need the presence of a dependable, adult male in their children's lives. Some may say they do not need a man, but the research indicates that the children do.''

And while some recent research indicates that children in stepfamilies fare no better (and often worse) than single-parent homes, and marriages fail more often among people who live together prior to getting married, Popenoe does find some glimmers of hope shining on the fatherhood and families landscape.

''Young people today still want marriage, perhaps even more than their parents,'' Popenoe said.

''But they view marriage differently — it's an option, but not necessarily a fundamental component of life.

''They also do not want to go through divorce themselves. There's been a slight growth in conservative values, and they seem to be less self-involved compared to their baby-boomer parents.

''That indicates that they may be motivated more to do what's right by their children, and prompt them to think twice before getting married or having children.''



Monday, March 18, 2002


Unmarried moms in Iowa increasing


A story published today by the Des Moines Register reports that the rate of unwed parenting in Iowa has gradually grown in recent years and is especially high among the state's African-Americans.

Nearly three-quarters of the babies born to African-American mothers here are born outside marriage, a statistic that concerns black leaders, educators and social service agencies.

"When you have a single parent, they are just trying to meet the day-to-day needs of the family," said Joan Roberts, principal of North High School in Des Moines. "They don't have much disposable income to spend on music lessons or taking the kid on vacation."

Roberts and other educators say children with single mothers often start school behind those who come from a stable, two-parent home. That can hamper efforts to close the vexing achievement gap between black and white children, given the high rate of out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans.

African-American mothers in Iowa are nearly three times as likely as whites to give birth to children outside marriage, similar to national averages. They're also significantly more likely than Hispanic mothers to be unmarried.

Iowa's unwed birth rates for 2000 - the most recent year available - looked like this: African-American, 73.9 percent; Hispanic, 41.6 percent; white, 26.3 percent; and Asian/Pacific Islander, 19.5 percent. In real terms, 905 children were born to unmarried African-American women; 890 children to unmarried Hispanic women; 443 children to unmarried white women; and 179 children to unmarried Asian/Pacific Islander mothers in 2000 in Iowa.

African-Americans and social service agencies that deal with young mothers offer a variety of explanations for why black mothers are more likely to be unmarried than those in other racial and ethnic groups.

Factors cited include higher rates of poverty, a greater willingness to keep an unplanned child, high incarceration rates among black males, and less stigma than in the past surrounding single parenting.

"I think the number is appalling, but it is a situation that is going to take a lot of time to correct," said Ike Johnson, chairman of the Iowa Commission of the Status of African-Americans. "One of the main reasons is the parental guidance."

Johnson said he believes too many young African-Americans have "either one parent or no parent at all."

The 2000 census showed that 30 percent of Iowa's African-American children - those younger than 18 - live in a household with married parents, compared with 76 percent of non-Hispanic white children.

Reducing unwed parenting among women beyond high-school age can be even more challenging.

"We don't really know a whole lot about programs to prevent nonmarital child-bearing among women in their 20s," said Freya Sonenstein, director of population studies at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.

Jasmin Allen, a mother from Des Moines, said she believes many African-American women have children at a young age because their mothers did. She said her mother was 17 when she was born.

"Our children's grandmothers are young," she said. "They're in their 40s, and if they can do it, we can do it."

Allen said she knows she's missed some opportunities because she had children when she was so young.

"There are a lot of things you have to give up," she said.

Allen lives with her children's father, although many unwed mothers fend for themselves, or depend on welfare and help from relatives.

The issue of unwed African-American mothers is greatest in the state's urban areas, where virtually all of Iowa's blacks live. Des Moines, the state's largest city, is home to one in four of the state's African-Americans.

Kim Carr-Irvin, executive director of the OSACS Women's Enrichment Center in Des Moines, said African-American women who have children outside of marriage often have supportive families to help shoulder the workload.

"Just because a woman has a child out of wedlock doesn't mean that she isn't going to get an education or job," Carr-Irvin said. "She just has to work a little harder at it."

Overall, 28 percent of babies born in Iowa during 2000 had unmarried mothers, compared with a national average of 33 percent. Still, Iowa's unwed birth rate is nearly three times higher than it was in 1980. The increase is largely the result of additional unwed births among whites and Hispanics.


Friday, March 15, 2002


It’s never too late to make your finances a top priority


A story published today by the Indianapolis Star reports that financial reality can be unforgiving for women.

They need more money in retirement than men, because they live four years longer. But they usually earn less during their working lifetimes, in part because they often take time off to care for children or aging parents.

The result, says Cindy Hounsell of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, an independent nonprofit in Washington: "Women run the risk of outliving their money."

But many don't realize that. "The thing I see most is that they're in denial," said Patricia Brennan of Rutgers Cooperative Extension in Morris County, N.J.. "They just think everything's going to be fine."

And it would be, if women started saving for retirement with their first paychecks. But in their 20s and 30s, many women are too busy with jobs, children or both to think about finances.

"If you have many other things in your life, you don't learn it as you go along," Hounsell said.

For women who are staying home with young children, Hounsell suggest the they continue saving toward their old age.

"If you're taking care of children, don't use any of your retirement assets for household reasons. Don't cash in your IRAs or pension benefit," she said.

And make sure you cut your spending so you can contribute to a Roth individual retirement account during the years at home. Stay-at-home spouses with working husbands can contribute up to $3,000 a year, which grows tax-free. Even if you can't contribute the whole $3,000, advises Hounsell, contribute what you can.

Women in their 50s and 60s can also take steps toward financial independence. "It's never too late to start saving money; the biggest thing is to cut expenses," Brennan said. "If you face reality and get a little control in your life, then you can do something about it."

And younger women seem to be getting the message about money. "Generation X women (ages 28-35) are so much more oriented around financial independence and autonomy compared to baby boomers and the World War II generation," said Christopher Hayes of the National Center for Women and Retirement Research at Southampton College of Long Island University.




Colorado lawmaker introduces bill to delay divorce


A story released today by the WorldNetDaily.com reports that according to a Colorado state lawmaker, many of our country's most pressing social problems could be eased if more effort were given to preventing divorce by couples with children.

The premise that a "stable, two-parent home has no equal in terms of its benefits to children" is behind an unusual bill introduced last week by state Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs.

The Children of Divorce Protection Act would require parents with children under the age of 16 who are considering divorce to go through a year's waiting period and six hours of education focused on the effects of the divorce on the children. The main aim of the act is to persuade parents to reconcile.

In Colorado a judge can decide to require counseling, Schultheis points out, but it generally is focused on "coping with the divorce rather than preventing it."

He calls the bill "fairly cutting edge" and is not surprised that for a second straight year it did not garner enough votes to get past the committee level. This year he got three of 11 votes, and nearly a fourth, from the state's civil justice committee, but he believes that in the next few years he'll see success.

"What's happening is that nobody is focusing on the children in this issue," Schultheis said. "This bill is creating awareness to alert couples, through counseling, to the statistical damage it will potentially do to their children."

"Politicians are out there trying to solve the problems coming from it but never trying to say, 'Well, where are these problems coming from, and what can we do to stop these problems from coming in the future?'" he said. "So that's the issue we're trying to deal with."

Schultheis says the "chief myth" he's confronted with is that divorce is better for a child than a bad marriage. The statistics showing the social cost say otherwise, he contends, and moreover a study indicated more than two-thirds of divorces are a result of parents growing apart rather than abuse, neglect or high-octane fighting. The results were compiled in the 1997 Harvard University Press book "A Generation at Risk" by sociologists Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth.

Direct opposition to the bill comes from special interest groups such as the Colorado Bar Association, Colorado Domestic Violence Coalition and Colorado chapter of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

"One of our main concerns is the lengthening of the period of time that a couple is forced to remain in the marriage," Jennifer Corrigan, public policy director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"The time when a victim of domestic violence actually makes a decision to get out of an abusive relationship can be a dangerous time," she said. "Domestic violence is about power and control, and a lot of times an abusive partner thinks that he or she is losing control, and violence can escalate during that time," she said. "So elongating that period can be very problematic."

Schultheis notes that his bill allows a spouse in an abusive relationship to opt out of the requirements. Corrigan argues that the exception is applied only if the court finds there has been violence.

Corrigan said she has been trying to find an alternative to the bill that would work for victims of domestic violence.

"I think that trying to do something more like pre-marital counseling, something on the front end, seems like a safer alternative," she said. 'I'm just very concerned about the safety issues for battered women and their children with that legislation."




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