Head Smacker: Can’t Afford Child Care? You’re Less Likely to Have Paid Leave


June 23, 2014

headsmacker_sq63 percent of children in the U.S. live in families where all parents work. But the lower the family’s income, the less likely the parent’s employer is to provide any form of paid leave. 
The U.S. Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) released a new report, The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave, as background for the June 23 White House Summit on Working Families. It found that only half of workers in the bottom quarter for weekly earnings (up to $540 a week) had any form of paid leave, while 83 percent of those in the top quarter (with earnings of $1,230 and up) had paid leave. The CEA report also shows that only 35 percent of workers 25 and older who haven’t finished high school have access to paid leave, while 72 percent of 4-year college graduates have such access.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the lowest income working parents have the toughest time affording child care. The National Women’s Law Center tells us that one in five working mothers with very young children is in a low-income job, and one-third of these is poor. And yet they are the ones who are most likely to have to give up pay, or risk losing their job, to stay home with a sick child.

According to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more than 2.5 million employees cannot afford to take leave to care for themselves or a family member with an illness, during pregnancy, or to bond with a new child. About 30 percent of private-sector employees taking unpaid leave incur debt as result of their leave.

Even though most children live with working parents, and at least 13 million are in families with income low enough to be eligible for federal child care subsidies, only 2.5 million received child care assistance in 2009, about one in six. And according to the President’s FY 2015 budget proposal, the number of children receiving subsidized child care had plummeted to 2.1 million in 2013.

So during the post-recession period, when wages were stagnating or falling for those at the bottom, and unemployment remained high, employers more often than not did not provide paid leave. At the same time, federal funding for affordable child care did not keep up with need, and so 400,000 fewer children were served.

Roughly 180 other countries provide paid leave for new mothers, and roughly 80 provide paid leave for new fathers. Nearly 165 countries guarantee paid sick days. The U.S., one of the wealthiest nations in the world, guarantees none of these.

Parents of young children hold the key to our future. They shoulder many burdens to ensure that their children get what they need. And yet the federal government and a great many employers force low-income parents to risk loss of income or employment in order to provide the care their children need. That’s a head smacker.

child care
Early Childhood Education
Labor and Employment
paid leave
Social Services
White House Summit on Working Families