Resolving Child Care and Work Schedules Proves Problematic for Many Low-Income Mothers

Last week, The New York Times reported on single parents’ difficulties juggling multiple responsibilities — including securing child care — while holding down jobs with erratic and unpredictable hours. The article included a profile of one such parent, a 22-year-old single mother in San Diego:

But Ms. Navarro’s fluctuating hours, combined with her limited resources, had also turned their lives into a chronic crisis over the clock. She rarely learned her schedule more than three days before the start of a workweek, plunging her into urgent logistical puzzles over who would watch the boy. Months after starting the job she moved out of her aunt’s home, in part because of mounting friction over the erratic schedule, which the aunt felt was also holding her family captive.

Unstable employer scheduling practices disproportionately affect women, who are often subject to inconsistent work schedules yet also the primary caregivers for children. In California, low-income mothers utilizing subsidized child care frequently rely on license-exempt providers — typically relatives and friends — to watch their children on short notice or during non-traditional work hours such as weeknights and weekends in order to work irregular hours. Unfortunately, during the Great Recession policymakers reduced the reimbursement ceilings — the maximum payment that a license-exempt provider can receive — from 90 percent to 60 percent of the maximum licensed rate, potentially limiting low-income families’ access to care

As we highlighted in a recent report, access to subsidized child care and development programs can be vital to the economic security of low- and moderate-income Californians, and has been shown to increase parents’ employment and earnings while reducing the chance that parents miss work or cut back on their hours due to child care responsibilities. However, California’s current provider payment policies may constrain access to care for many families. In the absence of federal or state policy regulating employer-scheduling practices, low-income parents’ access to license-exempt providers is critical.

— Kristin Schumacher