Employment Constraints and Child Care Decisions Among Low-Income Families

Mar 14, 2012

By Christine Johnson-Staub

Low-income working parents frequently struggle with unpredictable work schedules, workplace policies that don't allow flexibility to meet their families' needs, and child care arrangements that are either inflexible or unresponsive to the demands of their work schedules, according to a recent brief by the Urban Institute.

In How Employment Constraints Affect Low-Income Working Parents' Child Care Decisions, the authors cite factors such as low pay, absence of paid time off, non-standard work hours, job instability, and unreliable transportation as contributing to family stress and difficulties in managing work-family dynamics.

The brief recommends expansion of publicly funded child care and early education programs in low-income communities, adapting those programs to be more consistent with parents' employment situations and work schedules, mandating that employers provide paid sick days and employee-financed paid family leave, and exploring policies that give workers the "right to request" flexible work arrangements, as has been done in the United Kingdom.

In addition to those recommended by the Urban Institute, there are additional policies that states can implement to help families maintain consistent child care while they navigate the waters of low-wage employment. For example:

  • As described by the federal Office of Child Care in this Information Memorandum, the Child Care and Development Block Grant gives states wide latitude in designing subsidy policies, including setting policies that account for fluctuations in parents' work status and schedules. With more flexible subsidy authorizations, providers may be able to offer families more flexible weekly schedules and drop-off and pick-up times.
  • States can establish annual eligibility determination for child care subsidies, with limited interim reporting, to provide continuity of care for children as parents' work arrangements and schedules change over time.
  • States can provide incentives through the subsidy system for providers to offer non-traditional hours of care, such as evenings or weekends, to accommodate employment shifts during these times.
  • States can incorporate family, friend and neighbor care - which is sometimes better able to accommodate families with varying or non-traditional work schedules - into quality improvement initiatives such as QRIS. In this way families can access quality child care while still having the benefit of flexible child care arrangements that meet their needs.

Through a combination of improved work place and child care subsidy policies, states can give families the tools to access stable, high quality child care that meet parents' employment needs and help families become economically stable.

site by Trilogy Interactive