Working Mothers Require Increased Child Care Assistance

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May 5, 2004

For Immediate Release: May 5, 2004
Contact: Debi Kar, 202-387-5080

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released a study at a press conference today on Capitol Hill with Representative Lynn Woolsey's office that looks at the child care needs of working mothers, ahead of Mother's Day this weekend.

"Working Moms and Child Care" by Heather Boushey and Joseph Wright finds that access to safe and affordable child care is critical for working mothers. Mothers who have stable child care are more likely to stay employed and are able to focus on their jobs, knowing that their children are well-cared for while they are at work.

Child care, especially formal day care, which often provides more educational activities than other kinds of care, is expensive.
Even though they spend less on child care on average, mothers in lower-income households spend a much higher share of their total income on child care than do higher-income households. In 2001, mothers who were in the bottom 40 percent in family income, who paid for formal day care, spent an average of 18.4 percent of their total income on child care, compared to only 6.1 percent among mothers in the highest quintile.

Many families rely on informal child care arrangements.
Working mothers who use formal day care tend to be wealthier and better educated than other mothers, indicating that those who rely on informal care may be doing so out of necessity, not out of choice. Mothers in lower-income households use parental care more and are less likely to use formal day care centers, all else equal.

Child care assistance is critical for families struggling with the high cost of child care.
Between 1997 and 2001, there was a significant increase in the percentage of working mothers receiving assistance with child care payments from all sources, including government assistance. Working mothers in the bottom 40th percentile of households received more government child care assistance in 2001, compared to 1997. Even so, research has found that many children eligible for child care subsidies do not receive them. Only about 15 percent of children eligible for federal child care assistance actually receive any funds.

Lower income mothers face the greatest difficulties in securing adequate care.
Current legislative proposals are intended to partially address the problem. Senator Olympia Snowe has proposed to add $6 billion over the next five years in additional child care funding to the TANF reauthorization. Expressed as a share of the federal budget, Senator Snowe's proposal is equal to approximately 0.05 percent of projected federal spending over the next five years. Working mothers need more help with child care. Rep. Lynn Woolsey's "Balancing Act", HR 3780, would increase access to child care assistance and promote creation of a voluntary universal pre-school program.

This project was funded by the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.