Child care & work: 25% of low-income households had a conflict between child care and work in a 3-month period

January 27, 2021

A new report from the National Research Center for Hispanic Children and Families finds that 25 percent of low-income working Black, Latino, and White households across experienced challenges coordinating their work schedule and child care in a three-month period. Approximately 50 percent faced such a conflict five or more days during that period—the equivalent of one work week per three month period or four work weeks a year. Sixty percent of households who missed work and approximately 50 percent of households who had to adjust their work hours as a result reported losing income.

“A significant number of low-income households experience work and child care conflicts for effectively a month out of the year,” said Kevin Ferreira van Leer, lead author of the report and an assistant professor in child & adolescent development at California State University, Sacramento. “Too many families are being forced to make impossible decisions: Who can take care of my child? If I miss work, will I be able to pay my bills?”

The report used the 2012 National Study of Early Care and Education to compare conflicts between child care and work schedules across different racial and ethnic groups: Low-income White households were more likely to report experiencing a disruption in the last three months (38%) than nonimmigrant Hispanic (30%), Black (27%), and immigrant Hispanic (26%) households.

When faced with a work disruption, immigrant Hispanic households were least likely to work from home in order to cover child care (9%) compared to their Black (13%), White (16%), and nonimmigrant Hispanic (17%) counterparts. The low likelihood of being able to cover child care needs by working from home for all groups is especially concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to figure out a way to create more stable and flexible child care systems that support parents when these disruptions happen,” said Ferreira van Leer. “The pandemic has likely only made this juggling act more difficult, especially because low-income families are more likely to work in frontline jobs that do not allow them to work from home and that do not offer benefits like sick leave or healthcare.”

The report demonstrates a greater need for work flexibility among low-income working parents, and also explains that solutions to these needs must take into account differences in child care access and work characteristics among racial and ethnic groups. For example, child care providers serving high proportions of Hispanic children are less likely than other centers to offer full-time evening, weekend, and/or flexible hours, even as low-income Hispanic families are more likely to work irregular schedules.  The findings also speak to the need for workplace policy and practice that better align work conditions and schedules to the realities of working families.