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U.S. News Archive
March 21 - March 28, 2002



This page contains news for the period March 21, 2002 through March 28, 2002.  

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Thursday, March 28, 2002


Promoting responsible fatherhood


A story published today by the El Paso Times reports that David Sanchez remembers the anxiety he felt two years ago when he first learned he was becoming a father. Unmarried at the time, he faced a lot of decisions and fears.

Now 24, David Sanchez is a case manager for the YWCA's El Paso Young Fathers Project, said he sees the same anxiety in the new fathers he now helps to get job training or go beyond a high-school diploma so that they can become responsible fathers involved in their children's lives.

But to become responsible fathers, the men, young and old, need the community's help, Sanchez said Wednesday during the Paso Del Norte Leadership Summit on Fatherhood. The host was the National Fatherhood Initiative of Texas.

Sanchez said, "We're looking for support, so we invited these leaders because we feel they can help us come up with solutions, because the idea of programs for fathers is still new."

According to the U.S. census, households headed by single females make up 18 percent of El Paso County's 210,022 households, compared with 12.7 percent of Texas' 7.39 million households.

John Chacóón, executive director of the National Fatherhood Initiative of Texas, said these numbers don't have to be bad news as long as the father or a male role model is involved and the community helps him along.

"The intent of bringing in these community leaders is to develop a community action plan that promotes responsible fathers," Chacóón said. "The community leaders can become more father- inclusive in the services they provide."

County Judge Dolores Briones, keynote speaker at the summit, said fatherless daughters are 92 percent more likely to fail in their own marriages. Fatherless sons are 32 percent more likely to fail in their marriages, and much more likely to be incarcerated in state juvenile institutions.

"It's truly a problem that affects generations. The marital status isn't what is important, it's that both parents are involved," said Briones, a single mother of two. "You can see the consequence in the academic life of children, their social behaviors and the relationship problems these children face when they grow older."

For Jeff Dykema, Sunshine Community Church pastor, the summit is a step in the right direction.

"I know that it is a big problem and the big question is what can the community do. As a church, we can offer a foundation in morality, values and dignity," Dykema said.

"This is my first exposure to a summit like this, but I'm very excited about the efforts that might help the fathers."


Tuesday, March 26, 2002


Women getting college degrees continue to rise


A story published today by the Sun Sentinel reports that while women have been the majority of college students for about two decades, recent Census figures show that nationally, their numbers have risen to 56 percent. In some South Florida colleges, two of every three students are women.

In the past few years, more women than men received bachelor degrees in science-related fields. Even in traditionally male-dominated fields such as engineering, architecture and mathematics, women cut the gap by as much as 20 percent from a decade ago.

The reasons for the phenomenon are many, said Lynn Appleton, a sociologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. But the more fundamental reasons, she said, focus on the changing family.

For example, she said, because many contemporary families feel the need for two incomes, "many women who may not have prepared themselves for the workforce 30 years ago now assume they will have to hold a job."

Beginning in the 1970s, she said, "the opening of no-fault divorce meant Americans could end emotionally unsatisfying marriages, which created a couple of generations of divorced American women who descended into near poverty because they held no credentials to work. Their daughters have vowed this will not happen to them."

Tom Mortenson, a public policy analyst for the Center for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington, attributes the shift to the country's century-long evolution from an industrial to a service economy, which, he said, favors women.

The beginning of the decline in male participation in college goes back to the late 19th century, when men dominated all aspects of higher education. What stopped the rates from going down even faster were what Mortenson calls "two artificial spikes," the 1944 GI Bill, which financially encouraged returning World War II veterans to go to school, and the Vietnam-era law that exempted male college students from the draft.

In South Florida today, Appleton said, "lots of our working-class male students are going straight into the workforce and their sisters are saying, `What kind of job can I get? Checkout line? Maid?' They're not good options, so they go to the community college, then on to the university."

The cause of South Florida's higher female-male ratio may be because "the majority of our universities are non-residential schools," Appleton said. "Some portion of the families whose daughters are going to our schools may be sending their sons away to residential schools. Perhaps they're not comfortable with sending their daughters away to school as undergraduates."

That may help explain why the farther north one gets in Florida -- toward the larger residential universities -- women constitute much less of a majority.

Even so, the number of women entering the system has increased 138 percent since 1989.

The one thing that seems to have stayed the same, however, is the vast difference in pay between men and women. Mean income for women college graduates is nearly half the income of their male counterparts.

The prospects for salaries rising remains grim, said William Dorfman, a professor of psychology at NSU, who has seen women increasingly dominate the graduate student body at the college.

The reasons focus on the number of roles women try to fulfill, and the law of supply and demand, he said.

"The `feminization' of those professions leads to lower pay across the board," Dorfman said.

Historically, he said, female-dominated fields such as teaching and nursing pay comparatively low. As more women enter professions such as psychology and medicine, expect the salaries to go down and more men leave those professions.

"A lot of women graduate from our program," Dorfman said, "get married, work in the profession for a year or two, then leave the full-time career to have a baby. They may come back into it down the road, but the demands of family, marriage and children put them at a disadvantage for negotiation for higher salaries --- and schools and [law] firms can take advantage of it."

Men go into fields such as engineering, computers, even accounting, because the salaries are still high, he said.



Georgia child-support guidelines held up in legislature


A story released today by the Morris News Service reports that when Tom Scardino of Savannah got divorced in 1999, his wife gained primary custody of their two pre-teen sons.

Like most divorced fathers these days, he has the kids every other weekend and during the summer in a joint-custody arrangement.

But Georgia's child-support system does not take into account what he spends when the children are with him. As the non-custodial parent, he has to pay a percentage of his gross income in child support, while his ex-wife is not subject to a similar requirement.

Thousands of other non-custodial parents across the state face similar circumstances.

Their plight is at the root of legislation pending in the Georgia House that would overhaul the guidelines judges use in awarding child support.

The bill would shift the emphasis from gross income to net income and require both parents' incomes to be considered.

But the measure faces stiff opposition.

With Day 33 of the 40-day General Assembly session rapidly approaching, the deadline for bills to pass at least one of the two legislative chambers or die, it's stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.

Opponents readily concede that the current guidelines have led to inequities in individual cases. But they argue that the solution the bill offers would be worse than the problem, especially for the children of divorce.

Reps. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, and Ben Allen, D-Augusta, introduced the bill last year, and Ehrhart has made the child-support system one of his priorities for several years.

But he and other supporters believe their cause acquired new momentum last month when a Superior Court judge in Atkinson County declared the current guidelines unconstitutional.

''That decision really puts the state on the spot,'' said Ehrhart, a divorced father who does have custody of his two children.

The issue goes back to 1989, when the legislature adopted the current guidelines in order to qualify Georgia for $25 million in federal funding for child-support enforcement.

In their haste to get something on the books, lawmakers adopted a system modeled after guidelines in Wisconsin that were based upon low-income families receiving welfare, said Daryl LeCroy, an Atlanta-based lawyer who represented the plaintiff in the south Georgia case. ''No research was done to see what it costs to raise a child in Georgia,'' he said.

Today, Georgia is one of only a handful of states that requires only non-custodial parents to pay child support.

The vast majority split the payments between the mother and father, taking into account their incomes and the amount of time each spends with the children.

Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Decatur, chairman of the Judiciary panel's Family Law Subcommittee agreed that some non-custodial parents have a legitimate grievance, particularly outside of metro Atlanta, where she said judges tend to be less flexible in enforcing the guidelines.

But she suggested a better solution than throwing out the current system would be allowing disgruntled parents to appeal child-support rulings, now prohibited in Georgia family-law cases.

With the bill bottled up in committee, Ehrhart is hoping to attach it as an amendment to a related bill.

The other child-support measure is not on Monday's House calendar, but could come up as early as Tuesday, which would be Day 33 of the session.

But Benfield said more time is needed to address the issue properly.

She said she'd like her subcommittee to take it up this summer and be ready with a bill by next year.


Sunday, March 24, 2002


Study says joint custody better for kids development


A story published today by the USA Today reports that according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, children in divorced families tend to do better in joint custody than those who live and interact with just one parent.

The report in the March issue of the Journal of Family Psychology says that children in joint-custody settings have fewer behavioral and emotional problems, have higher self-esteem, better family relations and better school performance than children in sole custody.

That does not mean that those in sole custody are "clinically maladjusted or need some kind of therapy," says researcher and psychologist Robert Bauserman of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "It just means they don't do as well on average."

Bauserman examined 33 studies that looked at 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children, as well as kids in 251 intact families.

He found that the bulk of the studies show that children in joint-custody arrangements are virtually as well adjusted as those in the intact families, "probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents."

These findings contradict experts who believe that joint custody disrupts the stability of a child's life, shifting back and forth between parents, or that it exposes the child to two parents who endlessly bicker.

To the contrary, Bauserman speculates that parents who contain their anger at the time of the divorce may self-select into joint custody.

They are quite capable of continuing to parent together without a lot of rancor, Bauserman says. It is the sole-custody parents who report continued high levels of conflict over parenting decisions with ex-partners.

Almost all states offer a joint-custody option, Bauserman says, although many judges still favor maternal custody and oppose joint physical custody.

Alan Booth, a sociologist and researcher at Pennsylvania State University, says Bauserman's research is solid. "This is very consistent with the things we find. If couples are able to cooperate in joint custody, we would expect the children to do better," Booth says.


Saturday, March 23, 2002


Working beyond your retiring years


A story published today by the Detroit News reports that a few years ago, Charlotte Sherman planned to retire at age 62. But divorce and the economic downturn have put that goal out of arm’s reach.

With none of her ex-husband's pension and with access to very little Social Security money, Sherman, 67, says she'll have to work "till I drop. I don't have much choice."

Sherman is among the growing number of older Americans who are staying on the job longer because they can't afford to retire.

Some older men and women keep working by choice, but "others do it to pay the bills," said Penny Hommel, director for the Center for Social Gerontology, an Ann Arbor-based group providing legal and health resources to seniors. "It would not surprise me to see more (older) people working many years past retirement."

Sherman's decision to keep working followed a divorce that dramatically changed her financial circumstances. For many years, she was a full-time homemaker and mom, so her retirement income is mostly Social Security.

Sherman considers herself lucky. She has a good job at Dearborn's senior center, dispatching a van and doing other duties.

Still, the prospect of working into her 80s is frightening.

"(You) try not to think too far into the future," she said. "If you do, you go batty."


Thursday, March 21, 2002


Urging marriage to unwed parents


A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Bush administration is developing a new program to channel money through the child-support-collection program to promote marriage and the involvement of both parents in the rearing of children.

The new initiative would involve a maximum of about $22 million in federal and state money for about 15 communities, according to two draft documents that describe the plan. Participating states would receive special permission from the government to spend money through their child-support programs for community wide experiments to promote the benefits of marriage, help people develop marriage skills and create media campaigns to "rebuild cultural norms."

Welfare advocates also charge that the administration is trying to bypass Congress in implementing its pro-marriage agenda.

Mr. Horn, a longtime advocate for marriage and fatherhood programs, noted that promoting marriage and discouraging illegitimacy were explicit goals of the 1996 welfare law, and HHS has long had the power to approve demonstration programs such as this one.

"This is not an attempt to circumvent any kind of debate about anything," Mr. Horn said. "The debate about whether government should be involved with this issue at all was resolved five years

ago when Congress passed a [welfare] law and a Democratic president signed it."

While the welfare law gave states power to spend money to promote marriage, few have done so, partly because of a heavier focus on implementing new work requirements.

Critics fear that with limited money, states may wind up diverting funds from child-support payments.

"The primary focus should be getting those kids the support they need, not some half-baked experiment that no one knows whether it will help poor kids or not," said Laurie Rubiner of the National Partnership for Women and Families.




Michigan welfare plan focusing at relationships

A story published today by the Detroit Free Press reports that formation of the experimental Michigan Family Independence Agency running in Detroit, Berrien, Kent, Charlevoix, Emmet and Genesee counties is one of three attempts by Michigan to nudge welfare recipients toward marriage-- or better relationships between mom, dad and child. The idea is becoming one of the most-talked-about aspects of national welfare reform.

This year, Congress must reauthorize the 1996 welfare law, which mandated work in return for benefits. The Bush administration is proposing setting aside $300 million of the $16.5-billion program -- about 2 percent -- to fund marriage initiatives. A Democratic plan coauthored by U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, includes spending $100 million annually for family formation.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, in a recent phone interview with reporters, said he believes the $300-million initiative would fund things like premarital counseling and classes on improving listening skills. He said that while marriage is a goal, he recognizes it may not be the best option for everyone.

"Children are better off in two parent families, usually -- not always, but usually," Thompson said. "Economically, emotionally, . . . when you have two parents there . . . I believe, the child is much better adjusted."

In Michigan, besides the more than $500,000 family formation program, the FIA is writing a $250,000 marriage initiative and a $500,000 fatherhood program. State Rep. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids, chairman of the FIA appropriations subcommittee, has been a major backer of all three experiments.

"All of the research is basically saying that if you have both parents involved . . . it is better for the kids," Jansen said. "We spend a tremendous amount of money on children but it is always after the fact. . . . Let's look for a way to be more preventive in this process."

One study cited to support marriage and greater father involvement includes a study by David Farrington, a professor at Cambridge University, who found that divorce of parents before the child is 10 is a major predictor of adolescent delinquency.

Just reaching out to dads is a radical change. For years the state's welfare agency punished women who lived with the father of their children, said Clarence Willis Jr., Wayne County FIA chief deputy director.

"As an agency, for years our policy was if the mother with children is on assistance, dad could not be involved with the family and should not be around," he said.

The FIA wants to reach the women when their babies are just a few weeks old because statistically, the couples are more likely to be together when the child is very young, Willis said.

But Renee McCune, director of health education services for the Detroit Medical Center's Community Health Initiative, said that by seven weeks, many of the couples she sees are already apart. She said she thinks the classes should start before the baby is born.

"I think you have an opportunity then to prepare people for changes in their relationship with the birth of the baby," McCune said. "What we're hearing now are a lot of these guys are gone immediately after the baby is born or soon after."




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