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Weddings are in recession, too

WASHINGTON -- As the recession shook Americans' confidence last year, new figures show that weddings for people 18 and older dropped to the lowest point in over a hundred years.

A broad array of new Census Bureau data released Tuesday documents the far-reaching impact of a business slump that experts say technically ended in June 2009: a surging demand for food stamps, considerably fewer homeowners and people doubling up in housing to save money.

The new figures show, among other things, that the number of people getting married fell to a record low level in 2009, with just 52 percent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared to 57 percent in 2000.

Marriage rates have been declining for years due to rising divorce and an increase in unmarried couples living together. Demographers say the current downturn may now be causing more younger adults to postpone marriage as many struggle to find work and resist making long-term commitments.

"Given the scope of the recent recession, many more couples are likely to choose cohabitation over marriage in the coming years," said Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau.

On the positive side: Americans spent about 36 minutes fewer minutes in the office per week and were stuck in less traffic, although the reason was largely because millions of them had lost jobs or were scraping by with part-time work.

The government revealed that the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew last year by the largest margin ever, stark evidence of the impact the long recession starting in 2007 has had in upending lives and putting the young at greater risk.

The top-earning 20 percent of Americans -- those making more than $100,000 each year -- received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by the bottom 20 percent of wage-earners who fell below the poverty line, according to the newly released Census figures. That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968.

A different measure, the international Gini index, found U.S. income inequality at its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking household income in 1967. The U.S. also has the greatest disparity among Western industrialized nations.

At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, government data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.