- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2011

The recent recession may be leading more families to rely on family members — especially fathers — to care for young children when their mothers are at work, new federal data suggest.

In families with an employed mother and children under age 15, fathers were a regular source of child care in one-third of families in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Monday.

This marked a significant increase from 2002, when 26 percent of dads were the regular caregivers, said Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer at the Census Bureau.

It’s possible that “daddy day care” is occurring more often because of a social change, in which mothers and fathers are deliberately sharing household duties, observers said. But it’s also true that the recent economic downturn was called a “mancession” because so many men lost their jobs.

“Fathers’ involvement with child care is closely tied to economic trends,” Ms. Laughlin said. A recession “can trigger unemployment or changes in work hours, thus increasing the availability of fathers to provide child care.”

Losing a job can also reduce available income to pay for child care outside the home. The average costs of child care for families in 2010 with a working mother was $138 a week, up from $81 a week in 1985 (in constant 2010 dollars). This translated into about 8 percent of household income going to child care.

The story was quite different for families living below the poverty line: They spent 40 percent of their household income on child care in 2010.

This is “a big jump” from 2005, when poor families spent about 29 percent of household income on child care, said Ms. Laughlin. “Forty percent … is the biggest percent that we have recorded so far.”

Figures like that might make it sound like child care workers are making big bucks, but that’s not the case, said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute in New York. Child care workers “are among the poorest people in the labor force,” she said.

The 2009 stimulus law helped poor families by boosting child care subsidies, and also by extended unemployment benefits for everyone, “but a lot of that is expiring now,” said Jeff Hayes, who studies work-family policies at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“Even in a married family, where the man’s been laid off and is doing the child care … if he’s been partly supporting the family with unemployment benefits, and that’s starts to lapse, that’s going to be really hard on them,” he said.

The census data, released in a series of tables under the heading, “Whos Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2010,” also found:

• Of 21.2 million mothers who worked and had children under age 15, about a third — 6.8 million — paid for child care in 2010.

• Of 11.6 million children ages 12 to 14, a total of 3.5 million (30 percent) regularly cared for themselves when a parent was unavailable.