AP

APRIL 23, 02:39 EDT

Dead-Beats Contribute to Poverty

By LAURA MECKLER
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Absentee parents who spend time with their children are more likely to pay child support, the Census Bureau says.

But researchers do not know if the visits make parents more likely to pay up or those who pay are more likely to insist on visits.

In any case, the new statistics, being released today, offer support to projects under way across the country that try to connect fathers with their children, for both emotional and financial reasons.

About three-fourths of those who had joint custody or visitation agreements made payments in 1995. That compares with just 35 percent of those without these agreements.

The report also finds that parents who do not pay support are more likely to have children who live in poverty. It spotlights a striking problem in the era of welfare reform, where child support is supposed to make up some of the money lost when families leave the rolls.

But the Census report is based on data from 1995. Since then, there have been new efforts to collect more money and collections have risen.

Part of the problem is that many of the fathers of these children also are poor.

``They have similar if not more barriers (than low-income women) to getting work,'' said Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. ``A lot of them have jail time.''

Overall, the report found that $17.8 billion was paid in support in 1995. That's 63 percent of the $28.3 billion that parents said they were owed.

The Census report is the nation's only estimate of all child support paid and owed across the country. HHS releases similar numbers, but those figures only capture parents who pay through the government's collection system, explaining why the HHS collection numbers for 1995 were lower.

But the Census report also concluded that just $28.3 billion was owed, whereas HHS says nearly $50 billion was due that year. That may because parents responding to the Census questionnaire did not admit all the support owed from previous years.

Other findings in the Census report include:

— In spring 1996, when the survey was conducted, 22.8 million children under 21 years lived with 13.7 million parents while their other parent lived elsewhere. That's 28 percent of all children under 21 living in families.

— The vast majority — 85 percent — of these custodial parents were women.

— Mothers were more likely to receive child support from absentee fathers than fathers were from absentee mothers.

— About seven in 10 custodial parents who were due child support got at least a portion of what was owed. The average received was $3,732.

— About four in 10 got everything they were owed.

— About 32 percent of custodial parents who were owed child support but did not get anything lived below the poverty line. By contrast, about 22 percent of parents who got at least part of what they had coming were poor.

Focusing on custodial mothers, the report found that moms were most likely to receive payments if they were wealthier, white, educated, older than 30 and divorced.

For instance, 62 percent of poor women received at least some of the money, compared with 73 percent of non-poor women. Nearly three out of four white women got something; for blacks it was 59 percent and for Hispanics, 58 percent.

Just over half of women who had never been married got payments versus 73 percent of those who had been divorced.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.