Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Examining the Intersections of Economic Instability, Child Care, and Parenting during and after the Great Recession

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 2:25 PM
Brickell North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sharon Wolf, University of Wisconsin - Madison and Taryn Morrissey, American University
High-quality child care enables parents to work or attend school while also providing young children with the early education experiences that promote development. While separate literatures have examined income instability, employment instability, and child care instability, we know little about the patterns, temporality, and interactions among them, and how these patterns relate to inequalities in parents’ behavior, stress, and wellbeing. 
The paper uses the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to assess patterns of instability in the lives of children aged birth to five. First, building upon recent work on income instability (e.g., Gennetian et al., 2014; Wolf et al., 2014), we document patterns of frequent employment, income, and child care changes among low- and middle-income households with children under five years. Second, we examine how employment changes (entry, exit, and hours or schedule changes) and income shocks, as well as the arc percent change of income over time, affect child care arrangements (e.g., center- and home-based arrangements), controlling for previous economic well-being and income level. Third, we use regression analyses to assess how economic instability and child care arrangements predict parental stress, warmth, and investments in children’s human capital, including enrichment (e.g., reading to children, shared meals) and health activities (e.g., medical visits). Finally, we test for differences in these patterns of employment, income, and child care instability, and their associations with parental behaviors, stress, and wellbeing, by maternal education level, shedding light on socioeconomic inequalities in the experiences and consequences of instability.  The SIPP is uniquely positioned to investigate instability because it collects monthly household income and employment information on a nationally representative sample over a five-year period, along with two rounds of data on child care arrangements and parenting outcomes. This allows us to examine the proximal monthly changes in households’ economic contexts, and to assess the timing of changes among employment and child care instability, using a dataset collected during the recent Recession. 
Consistent with previous research, preliminary results show that households with lower maternal education experience more volatile income and employment. For example, over the course of 3 years, households with mothers with no high school degree experience 2.9 income shocks of 33% or more, compared to 2.4 of households with a high school degree, and 1.7 of households with at least some college. Similarly, fewer households in which no adult had a high school degree experience steady employment throughout the period (64.5%), compared to households with a high school degree (69.2%) and households with at least some college (75.5%). Finally, households with less than a high school degree are least likely to have use center-based care (7.7% compared to 15.4% and 30.0%, respectively) and most likely to have no regular child care arrangement (52.1% compared t0 36.3% and 28.1%, respectively). 
Findings will shed light on socioeconomic differences in the prevalence and consequences of instability, and how resource stability, above and beyond resource level, matters for children's human capital development. Findings can inform how anti-poverty policy interventions can target families most at risk.