The stay-at-home moms filling the aisles at a consignment sale of children's things have long been in the minority nationally — especially in Nebraska and Iowa, which have more mothers in the work force than most other states.
So they were among friends in La Vista at the ReRuns R Fun sale, where their stories had common themes.
The moms were like shopper Billie True of Council Bluffs, who left a nursing job she loved after having the third of her five kids, because life was too hectic and time with her children too short.
And sale volunteer Gina Urbanski of Papillion, who quit her graphic design job after her third child. She said she realized what remained of her wages after paying for day care — and, after long workdays, fast-food suppers — was less than $10 at payday.
They are mothers living almost exclusively in single-income households at a time when the majority of American mothers of children under 18 — 68 percent — work outside the home.
A first-ever snapshot of mothers not in the labor force brings into focus a population that has been aspired to and derided and examined and discussed at lsength.
The Census Bureau, as part of a report on U.S. family and household makeup, analyzed a segment that included 24 million married-couple family groups with children under age 15. Of those, 5.6 million, or nearly 24 percent, had stay-at-home mothers.
And of these married mothers, the Census Bureau found they were more likely to be Hispanic and foreign born. They also were younger, less educated and poorer, and with younger children.
One-third of stay-at-home moms were in households earning $75,000 or more; half of working moms were in households earning that much.
The findings differ from the impression often left by writers and academics who have explored the “opt-out revolution,” or highly educated, higher-income mothers leaving the labor force to raise children.
The Census Bureau also included basic trends in household and family composition, examining changes between 1970 and 2007 and noting declines in the proportion of family households, married-couple households and household size.
Not surprisingly, married parents had the highest household income because there were more potential income earners. Single mothers were more likely to be employed than married mothers.
Demographer David Drozd said the census report's findings make sense, especially in Nebraska. He said more recent census figures from 2008 indicated an increase in all Nebraska parents of children under age 6 in the labor force — 75 percent, up from 67 percent three years ago.
Only South Dakota and Vermont had higher percentages. Iowa ranked fifth with 74 percent.
One factor at play in rural areas where farming dominates, Drozd said, is the quality of jobs available.
“Women in this case might be being drawn into the labor force because the jobs of their spouses … might not be high-paying enough,” said Drozd, who is with the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Center for Public Affairs Research.
The census data varied widely by region. Utah had the highest rate of married households with children under 18 (82 percent), and the District of Columbia had the lowest (42 percent).
Cultural factors could help explain the predominance of Hispanic and refugee mothers in the stay-at-home population. So could the lack of well-paying job opportunities for people who face language barriers or have lower education levels.
Ana Barrios, program director of the south Omaha nonprofit Juan Diego Center, said it's a little bit of both. There is a culture proclivity for married Latinas, particularly recent arrivals from other countries, to stay home, she said — if the math works.
The same holds true for the refugees that Omaha's Lutheran Family Services helps resettle.
Because refugees typically are resettled into low-rent apartments and given cash assistance and public aid to get them started, program manager Jeff Vandenberg said, families usually find a father's entry-level wages to be enough, so the mother can stay home.
No matter the location or background of the mother, a common situation is having to pay for child care which, even for some professional moms in better-paying jobs, can cancel out earnings once a second or third child is factored in.
The State of Nebraska helps subsidize child care for low-income women, but the general qualifying annual income has to be at or under 120 percent of poverty, or $21,972 for a household of three.
“It might not be beneficial enough for them” to work, Drozd said.
Right now, Tabetha Wheeler works full time as a telemarketer for West Corp. and takes classes online. Her husband works as a casino dealer.
The 26-year-old mother of a toddler pushed her cart through the ReRuns R Fun sale and said she wished she could work less — a sentiment that tracks with a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project called “The Harried Life of the Working Mother.”
According to the Pew report, also released last week, 62 percent of working mothers say they would prefer to work part time. A greater proportion (79 percent) of working fathers expressed the opposite view: They preferred full-time work.
It's not that working mothers wanted to stop working; 75 percent of those surveyed said women should not return to traditional roles, and a majority believed both spouses should contribute to the family income.
But it doesn't take a study to reveal what many working mothers said: There isn't enough time in the day to do it all.
True, the Council Bluffs stay-at-home mother, could relate. She had her first baby in high school and worked two jobs to put herself through school to become a registered nurse.
After marriage and two more children, she realized she couldn't pull the 12-hour shifts at Clarkson Hospital as a labor and delivery nurse and be there for her children. She felt a tug at home when she wasn't working and felt the tug at work when a crying daughter would call.
It helped that her husband owned his own sign manufacturing company and they could afford for her to quit. But staying home wasn't an easy choice. True felt she had worked hard to get her job.
Yet, quit she did. And now, with her fifth child an infant, she has no regrets despite missing adult company and “good job” pats on the back.
“It all worked out,” she said. “Those years you won't get back.”
That's how Urbanski feels. She quit after her third child and is now a mother of seven. Her children range in age from 21 years to 10 months, and she finds herself nearly alone among mothers in her neighborhood.
That's why she finds solidarity at the sale, which started 14 years ago in a Papillion mom's basement and has ballooned into a three-times-a-year event that is now drawing 1,000 consignors.
Everybody, it seems, is a stay-at-home mom during the weekday portion of the sale.
Jennifer Goss of Papillion is — during the day.
The 36-year-old mother of five left a job teaching special education four years ago. Her three oldest now are in school, and she's home with sons Adam, 3½, and Nathan, 1½, who has Down syndrome. She also helps care for her 91-year-old grandfather.
Goss, whose husband is a hotel sales manager, works part time, at night and on weekends, at a Hy-Vee Supermarket to bring home some extra money.
By their math, after paying day care costs, she would have cleared $50 each payday.
“We figured I make more working part time in the evenings than I would with two kids in day care working full time.”
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