Child care decisions are complex and multifac- eted for low-income parents because they often must incorporate multiple employment-related factors into their decisions. These decisions are often paired, either simultaneous or sequential, whereby families make child care decisions that fit within the realities of their employment contexts. These realities include generally low earnings, workplace inflexibility and limited paid time off, and high job instability. In addition, low-wage jobs are disproportionately more likely to have nontraditional and irregular work schedules as well as inflexible work policies. These employ- ment realities further complicate the limited care options parents face due to supply, information, and cost constraints. The low wage levels of most low-skilled jobs limit the care options that parents working these jobs can afford. The available supply of some types of care options is often very limited in low-income communities. In addition, parents often have to make child care decisions with lim- ited information about available options or the actual quality of care options. Many times, they do so with little time to find and arrange care.1
In this brief, we draw from a larger study on child care choices to describe how low-income parents’ employment experiences shape their child care decisions. The brief summarizes and builds on findings from a larger research report that discusses how low-income working families in two study sites make child care decisions, and how these families’ decisions are shaped or lim- ited by key contextual factors. After we describe the research methods and sample in the two study sites, we present summary findings regard- ing the employment contexts of participating parents and the challenges that their employment posed for making child care choices. Then, we explore some potential policy implications. By identifying how work constraints interact with the complexities of child care, we provide a basis that can help researchers and policymakers identify policy changes that may improve the child care choices available to low-income working families.
Source: The Urban Institute