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Working parents have new options

WASHINGTON -- Some parents turned to relatives; others brought their kids to work or arranged for job-sharing with another parent. Mothers like Jayne Williams quit office jobs to start businesses from home.

WASHINGTON -- Some parents turned to relatives; others brought their kids to work or arranged for job-sharing with another parent. Mothers like Jayne Williams quit office jobs to start businesses from home.

New 2000 Census data for 20 states shows no abatement in the decades-old trend of more young children growing up with all the parents in their household working.

In North Dakota, 72.6 percent of the children 5 years old or younger had parents in the work force in 2000, compared with 65.5 percent in 1990, the census figures show.

In Cass County, figures show 73.6 percent of the children 5 years old or younger had parents in the work force in 2000, compared to 71.5 percent in 1990.

Fargo also showed an increase from 71.5 percent in 1990 to 73.1 percent in 2000.

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West Fargo was an exception, with 81 percent in 1990, but only 77 percent in 2000.

A range of socioeconomic forces during the 1990s allowed many of those working parents to become more involved in child-rearing, rather than relying on child-care centers and baby sitters.

Some worked out more flexible schedules with their employers, while others decided to open Internet-based businesses at home.

The 1996 welfare law, which nudged more people from public assistance rolls into the work force, also played a part in the 1990s trend, experts say.

"Flexibility was important," said Williams, who quit a six-day-a-week office job in marketing when her daughter reached her first birthday. She now sells home-care products out of her house in Naugutuck, Conn., while studying to become a teacher.

"I didn't want someone else raising my children," said Williams, who had continued working after her son, now 7, was born.

While at work, divorced prison guard Brady Marshall bounces between having a baby sitter and his girlfriend watch his 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.

"Due to my work hours, alternating schedule, alternating days off, and additional duties, an actual day-care center is out of the question," said Marshall, who works at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

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Census 2000 data released Tuesday for nine states details the number of children under age 6 with all parents either working or looking for a job. However, the broad category did not distinguish between single- and two-parent families, or whether the jobs were full- or part-time.

With Tuesday's release, 22 states now have data from the 2000 census "long form," which also covered topics such as education and income.

The percentage of the young kids who grew up with all parents at some stage of employment increased in each of the 22 states except Nevada and California. Demographers suggest that may in part be due to the increase in those two states in Hispanic families -- many of whom have mothers at home full time to care for children or may not be able to afford child care.

Among states released on Tuesday:

- In Connecticut, nearly 62 percent of kids under 6 had all parents working, up from 56 percent in 1990. The state is home to many affluent suburbs of New York City.

- Nearly 70 percent of young Nebraska kids had parents in the labor force. Jerry Deichert, director of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, said the struggling farm economy may be forcing both parents to work and provide an explanation for such high percentages in Nebraska and some other rural states.

Such statistics typically renew debate over the best way to raise children and government's role in helping to pay for child care costs.

"It really depends on the quality of the child care you are talking about" when debating the merits of stay-at-home parenting versus child care centers, said William O'Hare, a researcher with the children's advocacy group, the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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A separate Census Bureau survey completed last year suggests that new mothers are waiting longer before returning to work. The survey found that 55 percent of women who gave birth between July 1999 and June 2000 returned to work during the first year of their child's life, down from 59 percent in 1998. The declines came mainly among white women, and women with higher levels of education.

A study by the Department of Education found that the percentage of children age 3 to 5 enrolled in center-based early childhood care programs increased from 53 percent in 1991 to 60 percent in 1999.

The detailed Census 2000 data released Tuesday comes from the 53-question census "long form" distributed to one of six American households. Other states receiving data Tuesday were Kansas, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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