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More mothers with young children staying home

As I See It

We may be seeing the beginning of a trend toward more mothers with young children staying home and out of the workforce. After a quarter-century in which young mothers poured into the job market in a steady stream, the percentage of women in the labor force who had babies under one year old declined last year. A new Census Bureau report said 55% of women with infants were in the labor force in June 2000, compared with 59% two years earlier. It was the first decline since 1976, when the government began tracking the numbers.

It’s still too early to say with confidence that a trend has begun. However, something has caused a blip on the screen. Perhaps the strong economy convinced women that they could drop out of the workforce and re-enter later with little difficulty. Perhaps women are waiting later to have children, until they are more financially secure and therefore economically able to stay at home longer with their infants. Perhaps a new, less materialistic generation is reaching childbearing age and has chosen the intangible benefits of staying home with young children over the extras that a two-income household might enjoy. No one knows for sure why it is happening, only that it is.

The recent decline comes as no surprise to many economists, who say that while the number of mothers in the work force grew rapidly from the 1970s through the early 1990s, it stabilized in the late 1990s. Toward the end of the last century, there was a lot of publicity about successful women who quit work after having babies. Perhaps all the media proclaiming the virtue of staying at home with young children made its mark on young mothers-to-be. This theory seems to have a good deal of merit.

The Census Bureau report, “Fertility of American Women, 2000,” said the most pronounced decline in working mothers was among married women. The decline was from 60% in 1994 to 54% in 2000. Further indication that the trend is by plan and choice is in the report. White mothers and those who had at least a year of college were less likely to be working in 2000 than in 1998. But there was no such decline among mothers who were single, African-American or Hispanic or those who did not pursue education beyond high school.

If the theory is correct that the decline in the number of young mothers in the workplace is by choice, what impact will the massive lay-offs of the last year or two have on the situation? If husbands are out of work for long periods, will the young mothers be forced to change their plans and re-enter the workforce? Will the young mothers be able to find work in the sluggish economy of today? It’s too early to tell.

While fewer mothers of babies are working, there has been no such decline among mothers of older children. Labor Department statistics gathered last March indicated that 79% of mothers with children ages 6 to 17 were in the workforce in 2000 — up slightly from 78.4% two years earlier.

Though most mothers are now in the workforce, several polls in recent years have found that most Americans believe those women with children — especially young children — should stay home and rear them. The current stats, though certainly not conclusive, indicate that the polls are correct and that mothers of infants are choosing to stay at home until the children are school age.

Thought for the Moment

A governor’s advice to a university graduating class.

1. Take more chances with your future.

2. Don’t limit yourself.

3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

4. Listen to yourself and don’t take your cues from others.

5. Learn to write an outline. Figure out how to say things in a logical way.

6. Be honest even when it hurts.

7. Treat each job and task as if it’s the most important you’ve ever had.

8. Value each day and take advantage of what life gives you, and don’t waste time worrying.

9. Don’t look for happiness in places and things. Happiness is in your head.

10. Value friends and never let them down.

11. Believe in something.

12. Always round off the cents in your checkbook to the nearest dollar.

It will save aggravation and addition and subtraction.

13. Always have $10 tucked away. The day will come when you will need it.

— Maine Governor Angus S. King Jr.

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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