The Future of Work: Nonstandard Work Hours, Child Care, and the Implications for Children's Health.

Author:Sykes, Russell

In 2017, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) issued a call for proposals focused on "The Future of Work," to help identify crucial health and well-being issues associated with a rapidly changing economy. To paraphrase a 2018 blog by RWJF:

"The world of work is rapidly changing. Job instability and unpredictable earnings are a fact of life for millions. Regular schedules are disappearing. With "predictive scheduling," a retail worker, restaurant, or many other shift workers in various occupations are essentially on call, making everything from booking stable child care, attending school functions and attending to child health issues problematic and stressful. All of this affected health and well-being. Our job at RWJF is to look at emerging trends and their implications for health and health care as well as child well-being."

Among the most vexing issues for many parents and children is finding available and safe child care during nonstandard hours. As RWJF states: "Long days, back-to-back shifts, and unpredictable work hours also make parenting harder and high-quality child care nearly impossible to secure."

One of the six projects that RWJF selected as part of this new body of work was a collaboration between the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), focused on the new economy and child care for low-income families, particularly those with parents working nonstandard hours. The project team assembled a small informal project advisory group that included state child care administrators, and representatives from child care and early childhood well-being advocacy organizations, among others. Mathematica joined the project in year two.

The final report from the two-year multifaceted project combined survey results from 34 state child care directors, in-depth follow up interviews with 13 of them, and an analysis of data on mothers with young children who worked nonstandard hours from the Fragile Families Child Weil-Being Study (FFCWB Study). (1) The report was released in May 2019 and the results are summarized here.

The Broad Picture; The Growing Need for Nonstandard-Hour Child Care

The 24/7 nature of the new economy raises considerations for child care and child well-being. Nearly 20 percent of workers in the United States work nonstandard-hour schedules (defined as being outside the normal 8 or 9 am-5 or 6 pm hours), (2) and among working parents of young children, 16 percent of total work hours are spent outside of the typical business day. (3) Among low-income or low-wage hourly workers, the rate is between 28 percent and 50 percent. (4) For parents, nonstandard-hour work schedules can make navigating child care arrangements even more challenging. Current research generally concludes that working nonstandard hours and shifting schedules lead to worse physical and emotional well-being for workers, increasing the possibility of negative effects on their children, including behavior problems, obesity, delayed cognitive function, and lower rates of school readiness. (5,6) The availability of center-based and family child care during nonstandard hours is minimal, with estimates that only 8 percent of center-based child care providers offer nonstandard-hour care. (7) As a result, many parents working nonstandard hour schedules must rely mainly on family, friends, and neighbors (FFN) for care. (8)

Government child care assistance may reduce child care problems for nonstandard hour workers by offering more resources to afford child care during nonstandard hours, but prior research suggests that nonstandard-hour workers use more informal child...

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