Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16444 Child Care Subsidy Use and Maternal Work Conditions In Low-Wealth, Rural Settings

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 1:30 PM
Wilson (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Allison C. De Marco, MSW, PhD, Investigator, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carrboro, NC
Lynne Vernon-Feagans, PhD, William C. Friday Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose. Child care subsidies allow low-income families to access care that enables employment or employment-related activities such as education and training. Research on subsidies has found positive effects for both employment and job quality (e.g. Fuller et al., 1993; Tekin, 2005). In one early study subsidy program participation increased employment by 12%, although it had no impact on the number of hours (Berger & Black, 1992). A more recent study found that those using subsidies were 2.5 percentage points more likely to be working and 5 percentage points more likely after controlling for family characteristics (Blau & Tekin, 2007). However, less is known about how subsidy use is related to quality of maternal work conditions, particularly in rural settings with limited job opportunities. We address this gap with a unique sample of families in rural, low-wealth communities. Method. We use data from the longitudinal Family Life Project, a representative sample of predominantly low-income, nonmetropolitan families in North Carolina and Pennsylvania (n=1292), oversampled for African American and low-income families. Data was collected when the children were 6, 15, 24, and 35 months old. Extensive data was collected including demographics, economic well-being, and information about maternal work experiences. Regression and SEM models were conducted to analyze the relationships between subsidy use, maternal work conditions, and job quality.

Results. Approximately 70% of the FLP sample was subsidy-eligible at each time point with 23-33% taking-up subsidies. In bivariate analysis, compared to the subsidy-eligible who did not use subsidies, families who were subsidy-eligible and using subsidies were more likely to be employed and worked more jobs at all time points, at 24 months they worked more hours, received higher pay, and reported lower job satisfaction, and at 35 months their jobs were less self-directed. In regression analysis, subsidy use predicted workplace flexibility, such that at 24 months, those receiving subsidies had more flexible workplaces. We used SEM to examine how subsidy use at 24 months was related to maternal job quality (defined by standard shift, flexibility, benefits, job satisfaction, and wages) at 35 months with the FLP full sample. Results indicated that subsidy users had lower job quality. When running the model with only the subsidy eligible, subsidy use was not related to job quality, most likely because there is much less variance in work characteristics among these low-income families.

Conclusions and Implications. Child care subsidies are a crucial support for employment among the working poor, yet few were receiving the services for which they were eligible in the FLP. We have provided evidence that the use of subsidies is beneficial to the work experiences of poor, rural mothers who are able to work more hours and earn higher incomes than their counterparts who do not take up subsidies. However, their work experiences continue to be challenging, characterized by lower job satisfaction and low levels of self-direction. Outreach is needed to improve subsidy take-up rates, whereas initiatives are needed to improve skills and job quality of low-income workers in rural settings.

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