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The Determinants and Consequences of Child Care Subsidy Receipt by Low-Income Families


  • David Blau
  • Erdal Tekin


This paper provides an early analysis of child care subsidies under welfare reform. We review the literature on child care subsidies and discuss the potential for such subsidies to be an effective part of the effort to make low-income families economically self-sufficient. Previous studies of child care subsidies use data from the pre-welfare-reform period, and we discuss the potential difficulties in drawing inferences from those studies that can be applied to the very different post-reform environment. We use new household survey data from the early post-reform period to analyze the determinants of subsidy receipt and the effects of subsidy receipt on employment and welfare participation. The analysis uses data from the National Survey of America?s Families (NSAF), conducted by the Urban Institute in 1997. This is the only available national household survey from the post-welfare-reform period that includes information about child care subsidies. The NSAF includes a large number of current and former welfare recipients and other low-income families. State of residence is identified in the NSAF, so we are able merge information on the characteristics and rules of state welfare and child care subsidy programs with the household data. We use the data to address two issues. First, how do household characteristics and state subsidy rules and expenditure affect the likelihood of receiving a subsidy? Key household characteristics include family size and structure, and past participation in welfare. Second, how does subsidy receipt affect employment and welfare participation? Child care subsidies were received by about 10 percent of the sample. Subsidy recipients were about 2.5 percentage points more likely to be employed than nonrecipients, and about 5 percentage points more likely to be employed after controlling for family characteristics. Subsidy recipients were also about eight percentage points more likely to be enrolled in school, no more likely to be unemployed, and about 15 percentage points more likely to be on welfare than nonrecipients. The welfare participation difference falls to 10 percentage points after controlling for family characteristics. We cannot determine whether these are causal effects, since there is no source of plausibly exogenous variation in subsidy receipt in our data. Taken at face value, the results suggest that child care subsidies encourage employment and school enrollment among welfare recipients, but not among nonrecipients. The child care subsidy program created as part of the welfare reform of 1996 - the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) - is intended to facilitate participation in employment and employment-related activities such as education and training. Thus it is not surprising that a mother is more likely to be employed or in school if she receives a child care subsidy. The guidelines for implementing the CCDF state explicitly that current and former welfare recipients and families at risk of reliance on welfare should have priority for child care subsidies. This may explain why subsidy recipients are more likely to be on welfare than nonrecipients. This paper appears as Chapter 10 in the edited volume The Incentives of Government Programs and the Well-Beings of Families. To view the contents of the entire volume, please click here.

Suggested Citation

  • David Blau & Erdal Tekin, 2001. "The Determinants and Consequences of Child Care Subsidy Receipt by Low-Income Families," JCPR Working Papers 213, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:213

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rachel Connelly & Jean Kimmel, 2003. "Marital status and full-time/part-time work status in child care choices," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 35(7), pages 761-777.
    2. Susan L. Averett & H. Elizabeth Peters & Donald M. Waldman, 1997. "Tax Credits, Labor Supply, And Child Care," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(1), pages 125-135, February.
    3. Blau, David M & Robins, Philip K, 1988. "Child-Care Costs and Family Labor Supply," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 70(3), pages 374-381, August.
    4. Berger, Mark C & Black, Dan A, 1992. "Child Care Subsidies, Quality of Care, and the Labor Supply of Low-Income, Single Mothers," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(4), pages 635-642, November.
    5. David Blau & Philip Robins, 1991. "Child care demand and labor supply of young mothers over time," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 28(3), pages 333-351, August.
    6. David M. Blau & Alison P. Hagy, 1998. "The Demand for Quality in Child Care," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(1), pages 104-146, February.
    7. David Blau, 2003. "Child Care Subsidy Programs," NBER Chapters, in: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, pages 443-516, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Connelly, Rachel, 1992. "The Effect of Child Care Costs on Married Women's Labor Force Participation," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(1), pages 83-90, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hardoy, Inés & Schøne, Pål, 2010. "Incentives to work? The impact of a 'Cash-for-Care' benefit for immigrant and native mothers labour market participation," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(6), pages 963-974, December.
    2. Olivier Guillot, 2004. "Choix d’activité des mères vivant en couple et recours aux services de garde d’enfants," Économie et Prévision, Programme National Persée, vol. 162(1), pages 51-69.
    3. Debra A. Strong & Patricia Del Grosso & Andrew Burwick & Vinita Jethwani & Michael Ponza, "undated". "Rural Research Needs and Data Sources for Selected Human Services Topics, Volume 1: Research Needs," Mathematica Policy Research Reports a194fdd8e178411cb2a5c4c40, Mathematica Policy Research.
    4. Lowe, Edward D. & Weisner, Thomas S., 2004. "`You have to push it--who's gonna raise your kids?': situating child care and child care subsidy use in the daily routines of lower income families," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 143-171, February.
    5. David M. Blau, 2003. "Do child care regulations affect the child care and labor markets?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(3), pages 443-465.

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