Home > Uncategorized > Summertime Scheduling Problems That Plague Middle Class Exist All Year for 40% of Parents

Summertime Scheduling Problems That Plague Middle Class Exist All Year for 40% of Parents

August 10, 2018

In yesterday’s post about Arne Duncan’s latest book, I emphasized one observation Mr. Duncan made in an interview with the Atlantic that I found especially insightful. In assessing the challenges urban schools face, he noted the link between parent engagement and student success:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

This particular quote resonated with me because it did not cast blame on disengaged parents. Rather, it underscored that parents who would otherwise be involved in the lives of their children are often pre-occupied with other issues. A recent NYTimes article indicated that one overarching issue for parents who work multiple jobs or single parents is finding childcare. The headline for Dr. Julia Henley’s article in late July captures the problem. It read “Think Summer Child Care is Tough? Low Income Parents Deal With That All Year“. Dr. Henley describes the frustration upper middle class working parents face in the summertime when schools are closed and notes that these problems persist year round for low income working parents, especially those who work multiple part-time jobs or who work in retail where just-in-time scheduling is practiced:

But the gaps in care that frustrate well-off families over the summer are a constant in the lives of lower-income parents, who disproportionately work jobs with schedules that are not limited to weekday hours and can change unexpectedly. It’s a year-round second job to find safe, let alone enriching, supervision for their kids.

As part of a study my colleagues and I did on the child-care arrangements of parents in the retail sector, a part-time department store sales clerk told me that she had worked a different schedule each day the prior week: on Sunday she worked from noon to 5 p.m., on Monday from 2 to 8:30 p.m., on Wednesday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 1:30 to 9 p.m.

Over 40 percent of American children live with a parent who mostly works during hours when schools aren’t open and traditional child care isn’t available — during the early mornings, evenings, weekends or overnight — and these work schedules are often changing at the last minute. Some parents choose these shifts as part of a shared caregiving strategy with a spouse, but most don’t have a choice.

Dr. Henley notes that even though 40% of children live in a situation where a parent works nontraditional work hours, only 8% of the childcare centers offer coverage during those times. The result?

This mismatch between child-care needs and work demands forces parents to assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements, often with both formal and informal caregivers. These arrangements can be unstable and difficult to maintain, stress relationships and threaten the stability of already precarious work situations.

Apart from voluntary actions by socially responsible employers and some scheduling laws passed by a handful of progressive state legislatures, no action has been taken to ameliorate this problem. Indeed, the current administration has doubled down on the problem by insisting on work requirements for those getting government benefits for children, effectively requiring more parents to “assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements” to provide care for their children.

Meanwhile, in the face of the reality that 40% of children live in a situation where a parent needs to “assemble a complicated bundle of arrangements” to care for their children outside of the traditional work day and school day, our politicians continue to emphasize test results as the ultimate metric for school quality. If Arne Duncan was truly worried about the children whose parents were not present because they had too much going on in their lives, he might have set an example for school leaders by partnering with the HHS Secretary and the Secretary of Labor to develop legislation that would require predictable work hours to help the 40% of children who live in a situation where parents work outside of the traditional time frame.

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