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Child Care Policy Reform and the Employment of Single Mothers


  • *Direct correspondence to Jay Bainbridge, National Center for Children in Poverty, 154 Haven Avenue, New York, NY 10032 〈〉. We would like to thank Bruce Meyer and Dan Rosenbaum for making their data on tax and transfer policies available to us, Wen-Jui Han for providing data on child care costs, Danielle Ewen from Children's Defense Fund for help gathering and interpreting child care expenditure data, and Elizabeth Johnson for research on welfare and child care policies. Funding support was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and William T. Grant Foundation. Jay Bainbridge will share all data and coding materials with those wishing to replicate the study.


Objective. We estimate how the expansion of public child care subsidies from 1991–1996 contributed to single mothers' employment rates, controlling for other policy changes.

Methods. Using new measures of child care spending that distinguish between subsidies for welfare-reliant and working-poor families, we compare their effect on the employment rates of single mothers with young children to those without.


We find that spending on child care subsidies for working families had substantial and significant positive effects on the employment of single mothers with young children.


Dollar for dollar, the effects of child care subsidies were similar to, or greater than, those associated with tax policy changes. However, because increases in tax benefits dwarf those in child care subsidies and because one-half of all means-tested child care subsidies were directed toward welfare-reliant families, tax policies are estimated to explain a larger share of the growth in single mothers' employment during the 1990s.