Working Americans who are poor or near-poor have been rising in number at least since the 1980s. Most working Americans earn incomes that stagnated for decades, while costs have shot up for basic services such as housing and health care. More families than ever need two incomes to make ends meet. High unemployment and a record high number of single-parent households, however, have pushed families nearer to poverty or below.
Households headed by women in the labor force are particularly affected. This is why the Chicago Foundation for Women and the Ms. Foundation for Women funded Choices in the Real World, a first-of-its-kind report produced by Illinois Action for Children's research team examine the nontraditional work schedules of low-income working mothers in Chicago and their use of family, friend or neighbor (FFN) child care.
As part of the report, 50 single mothers from Chicago were interviewed about the challenges they face in securing child care while working hours outside of the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. time frame. The mothers we interviewed were not homogenous, though they are all challenged by low incomes, low or modest educational attainment, after-hour and variable work schedules, and balancing work and family life.
These interviews confirmed that public policies need to meet the challenges that these mothers and others in similar situations face. Illinois Action for Children believes the best public policies will focus on improving FFN child care rather than making it ineligible for financial assistance or driving it underground.
As part of this report, we make the following recommendations to legislators:
- Increase child care options
- Support FFN child care
- Support emergency child care, including for Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) families
- Support children's homework needs
- Encourage parent-friendly employer practices
- Build social capital and supplement relative supports
As the economy continues to add more jobs non-traditional in the nature of their schedules, these issues become even more important. What we learn from these parents and the challenges they face can be vital in moving discussions of child care and nontraditional work schedules forward.