ABOUT 1.6 million, or 8 percent of grade-school children of employed mothers, came home to empty houses in 1991, according to a report released by the Census Bureau today.
The report, titled ``Who's Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Fall 1991,'' reports that nearly one-third of the children were 5- to 11-year-olds, while the remaining two-thirds were 12 to 14.
``The mother's job characteristics are the most important factors in determining if a child is a latchkey kid,'' says Lynne Casper, one of the authors of the report. ``Factors such as income take a back seat to whether a child's mother works full or part time, or has an evening or night shift.''
Children 5 to 11 whose mothers were full-time workers were four times more likely to be latchkey kids than children whose mothers were part-time workers.
Other report highlights:
* The proportion of preschoolers cared for by fathers while mothers were at work increased from 15 percent to 20 percent from 1988 to 1991.
* Children of unmarried mothers are more likely to be cared for by their grandparents (25 percent) than are children whose mothers' are married (14 percent).
* An estimated $21.8 billion was spent on child care in 1991. The proportion of families paying for child care fell from 40 percent in 1988 to 35 percent in 1991 as father-provided care became more prevalent.