How Thabo Mbeki, President Nelson Mandela's...

HERE IS

December 27, 1997

HERE IS how Thabo Mbeki, President Nelson Mandela's designated successor, started his speech after accepting the top post of South Africa's ruling African National Congress last week:

"As we disperse from this capital of the North-West Province and begin our Christmas and New Year holidays, we must carry with us the messages important to the preservation of life and limb -- 'Arrive Alive!' and 'Don't drink and drive!

"Whatever our destination in the country, we must continue to spread these messages by word and deed to reduce unacceptable wastage of human life caused by carelessness on our roads on the part of both motorists and pedestrians."

Not only are we a global village, but the messages are universal.

WONDERING why Christmas mail seemed so slow? There was the increased volume, of course, along with the fact that most of the 5 million or so pieces of holiday mail the Post Office handles this time of year were handwritten and thus harder for computers that sort mail to read.

But there's another problem. Those festive red and green envelopes intended to complement many holiday greeting cards are particularly difficult for the computers to handle. As a result, in some cities, postal workers sort these envelopes by hand.

Does that mean red and green envelopes take longer to arrive?

Postal service officials would never admit to that, but they do say these pieces of mail take extra work. According to a report from the Associated Press, greeting card companies are aware of the problem and are moving toward lighter reds and even some pastel colors for envelopes.

Does this mean good, old red and green envelopes are a bad idea? Not necessarily.

For those who want a festive look and smooth handling, Postal Service spokesman Andrew Sozzi suggests using a red or green envelope but printing the address on a white label, preferably using capital letters and a computer or typewriter. Or just follow the example of some holiday correspondents we know and wait till now -- after the rush.

IF YOU'VE GOT money you can get money, A. G. Gaston, an African-American millionaire who died at age 103, used to say. The latest income report from a Washington research group called the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities seems to back up that assessment. Using Census Bureau data, it concluded the richest 20 percent of American families got richer between the late 1970s and mid-1990s while the poorest 20 percent got poorer.

The top 20 percent of families with children saw their income increase during that period by 30 percent, or nearly $27,000, to $117,500 while the bottom 20 percent saw their wages, in inflation-adjusted dollars, decrease by 21 percent, to $9,250.

The largest income gap was in New York; $132,390 to $6,787. Maryland ranked 25th, with an average rich family earning $147,971 to a poor family's $13,346. The two groups' incomes were closest in Utah, $110,938 to $15,709. The Census Bureau reported last year that the top 20 percent of American families earned 49 percent of the nation's money, up from 43.8 percent in 1967. Those in the bottom 20 percent earned just 3.7 percent of the money last year, down from 4 percent in 1967.

Such statistics make Americans pause. Most people want to make as much money as possible, but they also feel some guilt that other working families could be earning so little. One problem is that while the economy has grown, jobs and wages in the manufacturing sector have declined. One solution is to train low-skilled workers for better-paying jobs, not to end the wage gap but to provide more families decent incomes.

Pub Date: 12/27/97

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