Urban Wire Insufficient Child Care during Nontraditional Hours Has Hurt Families and Employers in Austin, Texas
Diane Schilder, Cary Lou, Dawn Dow
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In Travis County, Texas, nearly 18,000 children younger than six are in families who potentially need child care during nontraditional hours. That’s roughly one-third of all young Travis County children in working families (Travis County includes the city of Austin). For families with low incomes and Black, Hispanic, and immigrant families, this need is even greater. But just 4 percent of regulated child providers are approved to operate during nontraditional hours, which we define as 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on weekdays and any time on weekends.

Although this need is high in Travis County, the patterns are not unique. Nationally, similar shares of Black and Hispanic children and about half of children in working families with incomes below the federal poverty level have potential child care needs during nontraditional hours (link updated 3/23/2023). Ultimately, this lack of affordable and accessible child care during nontraditional hours creates problems for both employers and parents in Travis County and nationwide.

To better understand these families’ struggles without adequate child care, a team of Urban Institute researchers examined the supply of regulated child care approved for nontraditional hours in Travis County and captured the perspectives of parents, employers, and child care providers.

How insufficient child care during nontraditional hours affects Travis County families

In Travis County, the lack of child care during nontraditional hours disproportionately burdens working families already affected by structural racism and lack of workforce opportunities. Almost half of Black and Hispanic children in working families have parents working nontraditional hours (47 percent and 42 percent). Even higher shares of children living with parents who work but have incomes below the federal poverty level (62 percent), with immigrant parents (72 percent), or with parents who have a high school education or less (55 percent) have child care needs during nontraditional hours.

For working parents, it can be hard to justify nontraditional hour schedules because child care during these times is expensive. Although many child care providers are willing to expand care hours, the cost of caring for fewer children than the licensed capacity leads to financial losses.

One parent who participated in the study said, “Sometimes it feels like I’m choosing between my kid and my career. I don’t really want to work as a [low-paid job in a caring profession], but it’s one of the only things that works with my daughter’s schedule.”

Many parents who participated in the study told the study team that if their children were already in care during the traditional workday, they would prefer to keep their child at the same place for before- and after-hours care. But few providers that offer traditional hours also have extended hours. Most parents who participated in the study said that if they need care late in the evening, overnight, or very early in the morning, they would prefer in-home care so their child could have uninterrupted sleep and stick to their routines. Parents in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Oklahoma voiced similar preferences in interviews with Urban Institute researchers for a different study last year.

Although parents feel the effects of insufficient child care most acutely, employers also report negative consequences. Business owners reported challenges to hiring and retaining reliable staff during nontraditional hours because parents either are unable to work or limit their schedules. Although children in working families living below the federal poverty level are eligible for child care subsidies, none of the parents who participated in the study used these subsidies for child care during nontraditional hours.

How Travis County leaders can improve access to child care during nontraditional hours

Discussions with Travis County community leaders and our analyses pointed toward recommendations for county and state policymakers, employers, and community leaders:

  • Fund pilot tests to address child care needs during nontraditional hours, including strategies to increase local subsidy reimbursement rates for expanded hours of child care, support parents as ambassadors to share information about care arrangements, and expand shared services agreements to engage relatives and unregulated providers (link updated 3/23/2023).
  • Exercise flexibility in subsidy policies (PDF) to better support parents with nontraditional-hour care needs. Workforce Solutions Capital Area and Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area have flexibility to facilitate access to child care subsidies for relatives caring for children during nontraditional hours and to increase reimbursement rates for care during nontraditional hours.
  • Improve access to information about child care during nontraditional hours. The Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Health and Human Services can include additional information about care options by updating state child care databases with information on what hours providers are not currently approved for but would be willing to operate.
  • Engage employers in efforts to expand the supply of care during nontraditional hours. Currently, Texas provides tax credits and incentives to employers that offer child care and could expand these to include nontraditional hours. The applicants for federal Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors Act funding are required to submit a plan to provide workers with access to child care. This requirement, along with other federal and state incentives for employers, could address the lack of child care during nontraditional hours available to employees.

With each of these strategies, policymakers, employers, and community leaders can better support working parents and their children, leading to better health and wealth outcomes for families.


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The Urban Institute podcast, Evidence in Action, inspires changemakers to lead with evidence and act with equity. Cohosted by Urban President Sarah Rosen Wartell and Executive Vice President Kimberlyn Leary, every episode features in-depth discussions with experts and leaders on topics ranging from how to advance equity, to designing innovative solutions that achieve community impact, to what it means to practice evidence-based leadership.


Research Areas Families
Tags Alternative or nonstandard work arrangements Child care Child care and workers Families with low incomes Family care and support Immigrant children, families, and communities Job opportunities Labor force Parenting Structural racism Workforce development
Policy Centers Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population
States Texas
Counties Travis County
Cities Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX
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