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October 1991, Vol. 114, No. 10
Child-care problems: an obstacle to work
Over the past 3 decades, millions of women with children entered the American labor force, changing family life in fundamental ways. Now only 1 of 3 mothers stays at home and provides full-time care for her children, and even mothers of very young children are likely to be in the labor force. Indeed, about half of all preschoolers spends at least part of the day in the care of adults other than their parents.1
Growth in the number of day care centers and other forms of nonparental care for children has accompanied this increase in working mothers.2 But for many families, finding affordable, quality child care can be a problem. Good care with persons other than relatives is often difficult to find or is too expensive, especially for families with low incomes. Relatives and friends are not always able to help out, especially if they do not live nearby or if they are in the labor force themselves. For poor mothers, lack of child care can be a particularly serious obstacle in obtaining and holding a job, compounding the economic disadvantages they often face because of inadequate training, educational attainment, and work experience. These factors can prolong parents' spells of joblessness, preclude sustained employment, or effectively bar them from jobs that pay higher salaries.
For many years, interest groups have lobbied the Federal Government for legislation that would provide increased assistance to parents with child-care needs. In 1990, after considering more than 100 bills with child-care components, the 101st Congress enacted legislation intended to make child care affordable for more parents.3 Parts of the new legislation target poor, single parents who are not employed, providing them with temporary child-care assistance during periods of subsidized job training and during transitional periods after such training. This legislation recognizes that the lack of affordable child care is a serious barrier to the labor force participation of many parents, especially those who are poor.
This article briefly reviews past research and presents newly available data on the extent to which young mothers report being out of the labor force because they cannot arrange for child care.
This excerpt is from an article published in the October 1991 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Data from the Current Population Survey show that in 1990, the labor force participation rate for mothers with children less than 3 years old was 53.6 percent. A little more than half of all children who were less than 6 years old had mothers who were in the labor force in 1988.
2 For a summary of child-care trends, see Child Care: A Workforce Issue, Report of the Secretary of Labor's Task Force (U.S. Department of Labor, April 1988); Sandra Hofferth and Deborah Phillips, "Child care in the United States, 1970 to 1995," Journal of Marriage and the Family, August 1987, pp. 559-71; and Donald J. Hernandez and David Myers, "Family composition, parents' work, and the need for child care among preschool children: 1940-1987," paper presented at the Population Association of America meetings, New Orleans, April 21-23, 1988.
3 Legislation concerning child-care policy and earned income tax credit was enacted in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, P.L. 101-508. The child-care package contained in the Reconciliation Act includes an expansion of the earned income tax credit, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, a new "wee-tots" tax credit, child health insurance credit, and a family support (Title IV) grant.
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