In order to remain steadily employed, mothers with young children require access to stable, affordable, and good-quality child care. Yet recent evidence suggests that widespread problems may exist in the availability, accessibility, and quality of low-cost child care. The current supply of child care providers may be lower than the demand, due in part to the large number of welfare mothers who are now subject to work requirements. Moreover, financial assistance for child care expenses has been found to be inconsistent, with child care subsidies sometimes unavailable or difficult to access.
More than 26 percent of the Alameda study respondents reported that child care was needed but unavailable (defined as more children in the family needing child care than are currently receiving it, inability to obtain or pay for child care, or inability to obtain evening child care). In the CalWORKS Prevalence Project, about one-quarter of respondents in each county (Kern and Stanislaus) reported quitting or not taking a job (or job training) in the past 12 months, due to difficulty arranging or paying for child care (Chandler and Meisel 2000).
The type of employment low-skilled women are likely to obtain when moving off welfare often involves nonstandard hours that may not match the standard schedules of child care providers. In Alameda County, many families reported needing evening child care, which was unavailable; this group (16.4 percent) was significantly less likely to be working even after accounting for other potential barriers and respondents background characteristics (Driscoll, Speiglman, and Norris 2000).
In addition, low-wage jobs may not offer benefits that would allow parents to take time off to care for a sick child; flexibility of hours worked may be limited, potentially contributing to difficulty in child care coverage during school breaks and summers. The limited incomes of welfare recipients usually means that child care must be low-cost, which can translate into care that is of lower quality or less reliable. Finally, the availability of child care for infants and disabled children is considered especially limited for low-income families.