Single Mothers Working at Night: Standard Work and Child Care Subsidies

Article excerpt

A Single parent is constantly scrambling for someone to care for her two preschool daughters while she processes paperwork and inmates at a county jail in Winston-Salem, N.C. Hers is an unpredictable, ever-shifting schedule. Some days, she picks up the phone and calls in her sister, who's often busy with her own teen-ager. Some nights, she persuades a friend with two little ones of her own to let the girls sleep over. Her predicament is shared by millions of Americans who find themselves working long, nonstandard, or erratic hours and having to hunt for child care to match.

--Hays (1995)

I. INTRODUCTION

Working outside the "standard" weekday hours of 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. between Monday and Friday is an increasingly common practice in the United States. For example, 34.3% of all female workers in the United States were nonstandard workers in 1995 (Kalleberg et al. 1997). The investigation of nonstandard work is important for a number of reasons. First, there is evidence suggesting that workers engaged in nonstandard work are more likely to be assigned to routine jobs and to receive less training and fewer promotions than others (Barker 1993; Tilly 1996). Consequently, these workers tend to earn less, and they are less likely to have health insurance and pension benefits than standard workers (Hipple and Stewart 1996; Loprest 1999 and 2002). There also exists a positive link between the quality of an initial job and the likelihood of maintaining employment over time (Cancian and Meyer 2000; Rangarajan et al. 1998; Strawn and Martinson 2000). Second, nonstandard work is linked to a number of adverse outcomes for parents and children, such as work and family conflicts, marital instability, health problems for both parents and children, and poor educational outcomes for children (Heymann 2000; Presser 2000; Staines and Pleck 1983). Finally, the majority of nonstandard workers view employment during nonstandard hours as an accommodation to labor market needs, not as a personal preference. According to the Current Population Survey, more than half of the workers with nonstandard schedules report the nature of their jobs as the reason for their choice. Only about 6% of nonstandard workers report working such schedules for better pay, and only 4% give better child care as their reason for working nonstandard schedules (Beers 2000).

With the passage of welfare reform in 1996, child care assistance has become a more significant tool for helping welfare recipients move into the workforce and for helping other low-income families stay off welfare. (1) According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), the majority of states make welfare recipients and families transitioning from welfare to work eligible for child care assistance or give them priority over other low-income families when resources are insufficient to cover all who apply (GAO 2003). Almost a decade after the passage of welfare reform, Congress now debates legislation to reauthorize welfare reform, and child care funding remains a key issue. However, very little is known about whether child care subsidies have in fact played a role in increasing employment among welfare recipients, or in general, low-income individuals in the post-welfare reform period (Blank 2002). Even less is known about the effect of these subsidies on standard-nonstandard employment decisions of these individuals.

Since the passage of welfare reform, the employment rate of single mothers has risen dramatically (Jones-DeWeer et al. 2003). However, leaving welfare does not necessarily mean gaining adequate work and increasing economic serf-sufficiency. In fact, only 8% of welfare leavers have been able to sustain employment over a period of four years (Martinson 2000). Over three-quarters (78%) of employed low income single mothers are concentrated in typically low-wage and low benefit occupations (Jones-DeWeer et al. 2003). These occupations typically demand a greater number of hours outside the standard weekday times of 8 A. …