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Using Policy-Relevant Administrative Data in Mixed Methods: A Study of Employment Instability and Parents’ Use of Child Care Subsidies

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Abstract

In the United States, government subsidies help low-income families pay for child care when parents are working, yet policies that tie subsidy eligibility closely to employment may result in frequent disruptions in program participation for families. This paper uses a mixed methods research design that links administrative records on families and children to data collected through surveys and in-depth interviews to examine employment instability and job characteristics of parents using child care subsidies. The results suggest that parents experience substantial employment instability (employment loss and unpredictable schedules) and that exiting the subsidy program is frequently related to employment-related eligibility factors. Overall, the use of administrative data integrated with other methods provides substantial opportunities for researchers to explore complex social phenomenon and provide insights in the evaluation of social programs.

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Notes

  1. All dollar values throughout the paper are in US dollars.

  2. Office of Child Care, Administration for Children & Families. FY2014 Preliminary Data Table 15—Average Monthly Subsidy Paid to Provider by Age Group and Care Type. Retrieved July 6, 2016 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/occ/resource/fy-2014-preliminary-data-table-15.

  3. An extensive body of literature examines the relationship between the price of child care, or its availability, and mothers’ employment. Blau and Currie (2004) and Kalb (2009) provide excellent summaries of this literature.

  4. See Grobe et al. 2012 for a complete description of the methods from the larger study.

  5. The parent's primary employer, if she had more than one employer in a quarter, is the one with the higher reported hours worked.

  6. Findings were similar when we defined employment loss as a 50 % reduction in hours.

  7. The respondents were asked how much they agreed (strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree) with the following three statements: (a) you can easily anticipate what days and times you'll be working week-to-week, (b) most weeks, you can count on getting the number of hours you want, and (c) most weeks, you can count on working the days and shifts you want.

  8. Respondents were asked three questions from the scale: (a) how often does your shift and work schedule cause extra stress for you and your child, (b) how often where you work is it difficult to deal with child care problems during working hours, and (c) how often is your work schedule flexible enough to handle family needs. The scores of the three items were combined to create the work flexibility measure.

  9. Weber et al. (2014) also found a smaller effect of redetermination on subsidy exits when including employment losses as a covariate using a smaller sample of families.

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Acknowledgments

This study was partially funded through grant number 90YE0119 from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. Funding also came from the Office of Child Care in the Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education (formerly the Child Care Division of the Oregon Employment Department). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views of the funding agencies nor does publication in any way constitute an endorsement by the funding agencies.

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Correspondence to Deana Grobe.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Grobe, D., Davis, E.E., Scott, E.K. et al. Using Policy-Relevant Administrative Data in Mixed Methods: A Study of Employment Instability and Parents’ Use of Child Care Subsidies. J Fam Econ Iss 38, 146–162 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-016-9501-8

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