'Traditional' family is fading in Maryland Two working parents have become the norm, study finds


Maryland's children are less likely than ever to live with both their parents -- and when they do, the parents usually must juggle child-rearing and work, according to a study being released today.

Only 22 percent of Maryland children in 1990 lived in the "traditional family of breadwinner dad and homemaker mom" where one parent works and the other stays home, says the national report by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a Washington think tank. In only eight U.S. states did a smaller percentage of children live in traditional families.

Nearly as many Maryland children -- more than a fifth -- lived with a single parent who worked, usually the mother. Maryland ranked No. 7 in the U.S. in the percentage of children living with a single working parent. About half lived with two working parents.

"More mothers work outside the home, and families come in many forms: single-parent families, remarried couples, cohabiting couples, foster families and families doubling up," the study said. "Americans still value family, but the family now has many different forms. Will we recognize and address this pluralism?"

"The bottom line," says Judith Weitz, a specialist on children's is sues at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, "is that parents just have a lot less time and the issues kids are confronted with -- whether it be race relations, language difficulties, income disparities -- really do call for a look across systems to figure out better ways to help families."

The stakes are especially high because the number of U.S. children has begun to grow again.

A "baby boomlet" swept through Maryland and other parts of the nation -- mainly the Sun Belt and New England -- in the late 1980s. Older working women who had put off child-bearing began having babies, and younger women's fertility rates also increased. Maryland births jumped from about 60,000 in 1980 to almost 81,000 in 1990.

The number of Maryland children under 6 years old soared by 31 percent during the decade, twice the national average. Meanwhile, the num

ber of children ages 12 to 17 -- the last of the "baby bust" generation born from the mid-60s to the late 70s -- dropped by 25 percent.

Projections are that high birth rates will continue through the first half of the 1990s. This is expected to put pressure on schools throughout this decade and beyond, as enrollments increase, working parents can't devote full-time attention to their children and the rapidly growing number of elderly taxpayers have no direct stake in public education.

Maryland elementary school enrollments began to increase in 1985 and won't peak until about 1998, says Michel A. Lettre, assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning. Secondary school enrollments started to grow last year and are expected to keep rising.

"There should have been enough classroom space in 1970 to accommodate all the kids in school today," Mr. Lettre says.

But because the numbers of children in Baltimore and the older suburbs have declined while young families have poured into new suburbs, "it's a real growth problem," he says.

Nationally, the report found that:

* For the first time, married couples with children at home were not the largest block of American households. The biggest group was childless or "empty nester" married couples. The second largest was "non-family" households of single or unrelated people.

* For the first time, a majority of mothers with preschool-age children were in the work force. In Maryland, two-thirds of mothers of young children and four-fifths of mothers of older children worked.

* Young American children were more racially and ethnically diverse than ever. Nearly a third of children under 6 nationwide -- and more than 35 percent in Maryland -- were members of minority groups in 1990.

* A wave of immigration left 6 million children in the U.S. -- 14 percent of all school-age children -- speaking a language other than English at home in 1990, including 35 percent in California. In Maryland, 8.4 percent of Maryland's school-age children lived in homes where English wasn't spoken -- an increase of 50 percent since 1980.

Nearly 14,000 Maryland school-age children lived in what the U.S. Census Bureau calls "linguistic isolation" -- in homes where no person age 14 and over speaks English very well.

Nearly half lived in Montgomery County, the hub of Maryland's Hispanic and Asian populations.

* More than 18 percent of American children were poor in 1990, including nearly 40 percent of blacks and almost a third of Hispanics. Poverty rates for all groups, including non-Hispanic whites, rose during the 1980s. Economic recession pushed the rate to 22 percent in 1992.

Children's well-being differed markedly from state to state, but it varied even more according to a child's family situation. For example, the national poverty rate for children under 6 in married-couple families was about 10 percent, but it was six times higher for children living with a single mother.

Child poverty declined in Maryland during the 1980s, bucking the national trend. Yet 43 percent of Maryland children living with single mothers were poor -- more than 10 times the poverty rate for children in married-couple families.

In Baltimore, 50,000 children lived with single, working mothers and 37,000 lived with single mothers who didn't work. By contrast, only 17,000 city children lived in traditional two-parent families where the father worked and the mother stayed home.

The number of Maryland children living in so-called "subfamilies" -- with a parent but in a household headed by another relative, typically a grandparent -- more than doubled to nearly 81,000 in ++ 1990, nearly 28,000 in Baltimore alone.

Such a family structure, common before World War II, is making a nationwide comeback, spurred apparently by the high divorce rate and economic pressures.

"It's a general barometer of stress of a variety of sorts -- a teen-ager with a baby, someone who can't make it economically and doubles up, family trouble such as drug addiction or violence," Ms. Weitz said.

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