The blog of the Urban Institute
August 2, 2021

States Can Pursue Policies to Make Child Care More Accessible during Nontraditional Hours

As policymakers work to make child care more accessible for working parents, pursuing policies that address the potential child care requirements of parents working early mornings, evenings, overnight, and weekends can assist the parents most in need. Families working nontraditional hour (NTH) schedules—defined here as anytime outside of 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays—not only face extra challenges finding child care but also use child care services that receive less support from public funds.

Parents of all backgrounds and income levels work NTH schedules, but these schedules are more common among families who have faced structural barriers to employment, education, and good wages, including Black and Latino families and families with lower incomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties, deepened the child care crisis, and heightened the nation’s understanding of how race affects families’ risks and opportunities. 

To estimate the potential demand for child care during these nontraditional hours, we used data from the American Community Survey and Survey of Income and Program Participation. By understanding the characteristics of families who are working NTH schedules in each state, policymakers can develop and enact equitable policies that meet the needs of all working parents.

A sizeable share of children younger than 6 have parents who work NTH schedules

Nearly a third of children younger than 6 in working families nationwide have parents who work NTH schedules, but the share varies substantially by state. In Mississippi, almost half of young children in working families have NTH-working parents, but in North Dakota, the share falls to just under a quarter.

The jobs parents work, industries they work in, and children’s personal and family characteristics begin to explain the variation in the shares of children with NTH-working parents by state. Prior research found that parents working in the accommodation and food, arts and entertainment, retail, and health care industries have a high likelihood of working nonstandard hours.

A bar chart showing each state’s share of children young than 6 in working families with parents who work nontraditional hours compared to the national share.

Children in working families facing structural barriers are more likely to have parents working NTH schedules

Children in families with lower incomes, who are Black or Latino, who have parents with less education, and who have one parent present are more likely to have parents who work NTH schedules. But the share of children with these characteristics who have NTH-working parents varies widely from state to state.

A bar chart showing the share of children young than 6 with parents working nontraditional hours who also face structural barriers to education and employment.

States can increase the supply of quality, accessible NTH child care

In recent years, many states have planned to implement policies and practices to enhance care provided during NTH, with nine states planning to use grants or contracts to increase the supply of NTH care and eight planning to use grants or contracts to increase the quality of care. Sixteen states have planned to offer differential rates for NTH care.

To ensure all working parents have equitable access to child care, it is especially important that policymakers better support the children of working parents most affected by structural barriers to employment, education, and good wages. States can do this by pursuing policies designed to increase the supply, quality, and access to NTH care.


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