Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Taking Pressure off Families: Child-Care Subsidies Lessen Mothers' Work-Hour Problems

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Taking Pressure off Families: Child-Care Subsidies Lessen Mothers' Work-Hour Problems

Article excerpt

We use the Philadelphia Survey of Child Care and Work to model the effect of child-care subsidies and other ecological demands and resources on the work hour, shift, and overtime problems of 191 low-income urban mothers. Comparing subsidy applicants who do and do not receive cash payments for child care, we find that mothers who receive subsidies are 21% less likely to experience at least one work hour-related problem on the job. Our results suggest that child-care subsidies do more than allow women to enter the labor force. Subsidies help make it easier for mothers in low-wage labor both to comply with employer demands for additional work hours and to earn the needed wages that accompany them.

Key Words: child-care arrangements, family policy, low-income families, maternal employment, mothers, work-family balance.

With the historic rise in labor force participation of women with children, social scientists studying families have devoted considerable attention to work-family conflicts. Researchers have noted, for example, spillovers that affect families' quality of life such as individual stress, marital quality, parenting, and children's outcomes, as well as spillovers that affect work organizations such as absenteeism, turnover, and loss of productivity (Behson, 2002; VandenHeuvel, 1997). These conflicts are particularly important for low-income, low-skilled women, who are less likely to work for employers offering family-friendly policies. Still, our understanding of sources of work-family conflicts and possible strategies for reducing them has been inadequate and incomplete. Our study takes a step toward this understanding by investigating the role of child-care subsidies in mitigating the spillover of child-care problems into parents' ability to work for pay successfully.

The potential impact of state resources has received little attention in the research literature on work-family conflict. Yet, the experience of European countries suggests that family policies can have an important impact on quality of family life (Gornick & Meyers, 2003). Subsidies are defined here to mean a state-wide program that provides funds to assist low-income families with the high cost of paid child care and to improve mothers' chances of finding employment (Kimmell, 1995, 1998; Meyers, Han, Waldfogel, & Garfinkel, 2001). Child-care subsidies are a promising family policy because they seem to capture broader political support than other family interventions (e.g., child allowances). Some researchers suggest that child-care subsidies do facilitate moving mothers off welfare and into work (Danziger, Ananat, & Browning, 2004). This line of research has an unduly narrow focus, however, asking whether government subsidy policy can move state-dependent families to self-sufficiency (Bainbridge, Meyers, & Waldfogel, 2003; Berger & Black, 1992) and using data sets that are often limited to samples of welfare participants (Meyers, Heintze, & Wolf, 2002; Queralt, Witte, & Griesinger, 2000).

The impact of a subsidy has the potential to be much broader; there could be consequences for the workplace experience of women, especially in the important area of the amount and scheduling of time that the mother spends on the job. First, for low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet, more time translates into earnings and the ability to comply with employers' needs and expectations. Second, time schedules are an important issue for parents juggling work and family demands (Presser, 2003). For low-wage earners in particular, jobs tend to be regimented and workers have little autonomy over their time. Therefore, we suggest that when parents have increased child-care options and fewer childcare expenses made possible via subsidized child care, they are better able to work when they need to.

In this paper, we offer an approach to the effect of subsidies on low-income women that is somewhat different from those of other studies. …

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