In a Harsh Market for a Single Mom, No Choice but to Be Creative

By Lily Garcia
Sunday, November 30, 2008

QI am a recent college graduate, and I am in search of a decent-paying job. I have a 1-year-old son requiring child care, so I cannot accept a position making $15 an hour. I have searched online for many hours, and I seem to get stuck with scams. Any advice?

A I am going to make two important assumptions: You are a single parent, and you do not receive child support from your child's other parent. For a person making $15 an hour under those circumstances, finding a suitable child-care arrangement can be daunting.

Consider the fact that the typical day-care center in the Washington area charges $1,200 to $1,400 per month for full-time care. The average babysitter, meanwhile, charges at least $10 per hour. More than half of your modest earnings can very easily be consumed by child care.

The fact that you are able to find jobs paying $15 per hour, which is more than double the federal minimum wage, gives you a commanding lead over a good many single parents who struggle with child care. Yet despite your earning potential, you might be eligible to have a portion of your child-care expenses paid for through your state's child-care subsidy program, which is funded by the federal Child Care and Development Fund.

Eligibility criteria for child care subsidies vary from state to state. Some calculate that your income must fall below a percentage of the federal poverty guidelines; others have adopted a formula based on the state's median income. You might also be eligible for other services offered as part of your state's patchwork of support for single working parents. Make an appointment with the appropriate agency to explore your options.

Target your job search so that you secure the highest possible wage, recognizing that it might take you three to five years before you can comfortably afford to pay for full-time day care or a babysitter. Also look for employers that offer dependent care spending accounts, which will allow you to set aside a portion of your income pre-tax to pay for child care.

In the meantime, you must be open to creative child-care arrangements. You might consider combining part-time day care with help from trusted relatives. I have also known single parents who have teamed up with other families to form babysitting cooperatives. Members of the co-op rotate babysitting responsibility for all of the parents' children so that they are all able to work a part-time schedule.

I do not mean to oversimplify your challenge or suggest that there is an easy way out of it. However, the good news is that your path is well traveled. If you look, you will find a community of parents who are in very much the same situation as you and a wealth of experience to draw upon.

I'm in my fourth job in time in 5 1/2 years. I find myself looking for a new job -- and with some trouble, as you might guess. I held the first two jobs out of college for about two years each, with some overlap. The last two jobs were for just about a year each. I want to leave my current position because I am having trouble making my mortgage payments on my salary, and because my boss is terrible to work for. I have never been fired. I have left all on amicable terms and have received positive references from all my former bosses but expect an awkward and unfriendly departure from my current position.

Should I wait to search for a new job and stick it out for another year? Two? How much time will it take to erase the job-hopper label? Or, is the job-hopper label not as bad as I think it is?

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