Barriers to Accessing High-Quality Childcare and the Impact on ALICE Households

Children in an early learning center

Barriers to Accessing High-Quality Child Care and the Impact on ALICE Households

Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) households represent a significant portion of the working American population. Despite being employed, these families often struggle to meet basic needs due to high costs and a systemic lack of social supports. One major challenge they face is obtaining affordable, high-quality child care. In terms of factors that keep these households from achieving financial stability, this constraint is second only to transportation barriers. 

Here’s how and why this obstacle continues to present challenges for so many hard-working families.

The Importance of Quality Child Care for ALICE Households

Child care is an essential service on which countless two-earner American families at all income levels rely. Having reliable childcare arrangements in place is often a prerequisite for gaining and maintaining employment, which means that the inability to implement these can have far-reaching impacts on a family's financial stability. For ALICE households, these impacts are even greater. Here are some of the factors that prevent ALICE families from getting adequate after-school or full-day caregiving services for their children.

Barriers to Accessing Quality Child Care

1. High Costs

The cost of child care is one of the primary barriers that ALICE households face. In many cases, the magnitude of this financial burden for a single child is second only to the cost of housing. If two or more children need child care, this cost becomes the single greatest household expenditure and takes up a sizable portion of a family's income.

2. Single Motherhood and Inequitable Pay

ALICE families are more likely than others to be headed by single parents. In the US, the vast majority of these are women. In addition to being significantly more likely to hold low-paying jobs, as of 2022, the average American woman earned about 22% less than her male counterpart. Further, Black and Hispanic women face even greater gender pay gaps than women of other races.

Single motherhood, unequal career opportunities, and inequitable pay effectively present a triple penalty for many ALICE households, making child care all the more crucial to upward financial mobility — and yet all the more unaffordable.

3. Limited Availability

Another major obstacle is the limited availability of quality childcare options. Low-income working families often have to contend with “child care deserts,” long waitlists, and limited operating hours. Child care center hours may not align with adult work schedules, given that ALICE earners also frequently work non-traditional schedules, such as swing and night shifts. For parents and caregivers who don’t have local friends or family members who can reliably help out with caregiving, all of the above can leave them with very limited and difficult choices.

4. Inadequate Public Support

Public policies often do not adequately support ALICE families' childcare needs. Unlike food assistance programs, for example, federal childcare assistance programs have capped funding. This means that not all families who qualify for these programs will receive services and that service capacity will not automatically expand to meet increasing volumes of need, even with general bipartisan voter support.


The Impact of Child Care Barriers on ALICE Families

The inability to obtain adequate child care can have a cascading effect on ALICE households' ability to thrive:

  • Employment challenges. Without reliable child care, parents can be forced to reduce their work hours or quit their jobs, leading to a loss of income.
  • Long-term economic impact. The unavailability of child care may also have long-term economic consequences. Parents may miss opportunities for skill development and career advancement due to caregiving responsibilities.
  • Children's development. A lack of quality child care affects not only parents and household incomes, but also children's development. Studies show that high-quality early childhood care plays a crucial role in cognitive and social development. This in turn can impact children’s academic achievement, physical and mental health, relationships, career attainment, and financial stability as they grow up.

Improving Child Care Access for All Americans

Ultimately, overcoming the barriers to quality child care for ALICE households is not just a matter of social equity; it is vital to the long-term economic well-being of communities and the nation as a whole. Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach that takes into account the unique needs and challenges faced by ALICE families and prioritizes solutions that support their financial stability and overall well-being.

Get Child Care Assistance With United Way of York County

United Way of York County in Pennsylvania assists working households in our community to achieve financial stability by collaboratively and equitably reducing barriers to prosperity. We offer access to free health and human services like child care, affordable prescription medications, assistance with tax preparation, transportation support, and more to fight for education, health, and economic mobility for all members of our community. 

Learn more about how to use PA 211 to access resources like high-quality child care, and contact us to get the services you need for a financially successful future. Alternatively, consider supporting us by making a donation today!