Report: R.I. parent employment outpaces national average

PROVIDENCE – In Rhode Island, the third state in the union to adopt a paid family leave program, the rate of children aged six and under as well as between six and 17 with employed parents are higher than the national averages, per an issue brief published by R.I. Kids Count Monday.

Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of Rhode Island children younger than six have employed parents while 77 percent of local youth aged six to 17 have parents in the workforce, per the nonprofit agency’s “Working Parents, Child Care, and Paid Family Leave in Rhode Island” issue brief. The national averages are 65 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

What comes hand-in-hand with parental employment is child care and, in Rhode Island, R.I. Kids Count found 10 hours of child care is necessary for a parent working an eight-and-a-half-hour day including commuting time. This, per the report, adds up to 2,600 hours per year which is more than twice the 1,080 hours public schools operate.

Per 2015 data cited by R.I. Kids Count in Tuesday’s report, one year’s worth of child care costs $12, 091 for an infant and $10.172 for a preschooler at a day care center and a school-age, out-of-home program for kids aged six through 12 costs $7,775.

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Child care can account for a significant portion of a family’s income and, per the report, in Rhode Island, 42 percent of children younger than six are members of low-income families earning less than $41,560 for a family of three in 2018 – or earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Under-educated women of color who are mothers disproportionately fall below  that threshold.

As a result, per the report: “Parents with low wage jobs often face great instability and stress because they have little paid time off to attend to parenting responsibilities and great difficulty accessing high-quality early care and education programs.”

The current recommended routine, preventative health care regimen for pregnant women includes 15 prenatal visits for uncomplicated pregnancies and new born checkups are up to 12 visits before age three as well as annual visits through age 18. Additionally, “almost all children experience routine illnesses each year,” per the report with 15 percent experiencing chronic illnesses requiring frequent and ongoing care.

While the United States has yet to establish a federally-mandated paid family leave program, Rhode Island’s 1987 Parental and Family Medical Leave Act required employers to offer 13 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member.

Five years later, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act required employer to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Rhode Island became the third U.S. state to establish a paid family leave program. In 2013, the Temporary Caregivers Insurance program, which is connected to the  Temporary Disability Insurance program, provides for up to four weeks of paid time off to care for a new child or seriously ill family member.

In line with the national trend, in the Ocean State, “the younger you are, the more likely you are to live in poverty,” read the report.

Nearly one quarter, 23 percent, of children young than five, 18 percent of children aged five to 17 while 13 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 and nine percent of adults aged 64-plus live in poverty.

Per the report, the early child care and education workforce is “almost exclusively female” with varying amounts of education ranging from pursuing a high school diploma to a bachelors degrees or higher. The industry is characterized by “low wages” and “faces great economic insecurity.”

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, gowdey-backus@pbn.com.