Reports and Briefs
Charts and Graphics
American Almanac
Journal of Children & Poverty

Reports and Briefs

Little Room to Play: How Changes to City Child-Care Policies Reduce Opportunities for Working Families

Only a fraction of low-income families who need child care subsidies in New York City receive them, despite the important benefits of child care for children and their parents. This brief explains how the increasing cost and decreased access to child care affects low-income working families in New York City.

In New York City the single greatest expense for low-income households with children is child care, surpassing even the cost of housing and food.(i) Government subsidies significantly help defray this expense and keep low-income working families off the public-assistance (PA) rolls. In 2005 the Bloomberg administration announced a major overhaul and expansion of this crucial support, aiming to double the number of children receiving City-subsidized child care and improve its system of early-childhood education to raise the standard of care. Seven years later, these promises stand little hope of being fulfilled for New York’s most vulnerable families. 

Who Gets What

With some exceptions, a family of three in New York City must have an income below 200% of the poverty level ($37,060) to be eligible for a child-care subsidy.(ii) Today, there are nearly 665,000 families in the city who meet this criterion.(iii) They include 53% (318,491) of all children under the age of six.(iv) However, only a fraction of these families actually get these benefits. In fact, the number of children receiving child-care subsidies through the City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has fallen by 19%, from 116,355 in Fiscal Year 2006 (FY06) to 94,794 in FY12 to date (Figure 1). While federal mandates require that families on public assistance receive child-care subsidies, no such safety net exists for the thousands of low-income working families not on PA.(v) With rising costs and shrinking budgets, the City has chosen to direct the increasingly limited child-care subsidies to PA families at the expense of low-income working families. This decision has effectively cut access to child care for more than 567,000 already-struggling families and will force many of them deeper into poverty.(vi)

For low-income families, accessing affordable child care can be the difference between work and unemployment (see the ICPH Profiles of Risk: Child Care research brief, April 2012).

In a 2009 survey of City Back to Work programs, one-third (33%) of respondents cited lack of affordable child care as a barrier to employment.(vii) In a 2010 study, roughly one-quarter of New York City parents eligible for but not receiving subsidies due to shortages were unemployed because of lack of affordable child care, while others were forced to change work hours (24%) or forgo promotions (13%) for the same reason.(viii)

 Figure 1

*Capacity for Fiscal Year 2012 is through January 2012.

Sources: New York City Independent Budget Office, City’s Subsidized Child Care System Faces Rising Costs, Shrinking Funds, 2010; City of New York, Mayor’s Management Report Fiscal 2011; New York City Administration for Children’s Services, ACS Monthly Flash Indicators Report, January 2011; New York City Administration for Children’s Services, EarlyLearn Request for Proposals, May 2011.


(i)In New York City, child care for one preschooler and one school-aged child costs $1,428, more than the 2011 fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment ($1,403) and total monthly food expenses in all five boroughs ($741 in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island; $810 in Manhattan; and $671 in Queens); Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, The Self-sufficiency Standard for New York City, June 2010; National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2011.

(ii)Eligibility requirements vary based on family size and funding source. Maximum eligibility is 275% of the poverty level for a family of two and 200% regardless of family size if subsidies are funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Only 3% of subsidies go to families whose income is above 200% of the poverty level. Center for Children’s Initiatives, CCI Primer 2011: Key Facts about Early Care and Education in New York City: 9–10, 28; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Register 76, no. 13 (January 20, 2011): 3637–8.

(iii)U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey 1-year Estimate, Table B17026. Ratio of Income to Poverty Level of Families in the Past 12 Months.

(iv)U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey 1-year Estimate, Table 17024. Age by Ratio of Income to Poverty Level in the Past 12 Months.

(v)Center for Children’s Initiatives, CCI Primer 2011: Key Facts about Early Care and Education in New York City (2011): 9.

(vi)The number of families below 200% of the poverty level not receiving PA equals the total number of families below 200% of poverty minus the annualized number of PA families. U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey 1-year Estimate; New York City Human Resources Administration, HRA/DSS Monthly Fact Sheets, 2010.

(vii)Urban Justice Center, We Want Work (March 2009): 19.

(viii)Center for Children’s Initiatives, When Families Eligible for Child Care Subsidies Don’t Have One (2010): 4.

Empty Seats: The Epidemic of Absenteeism Among Homeless Elementary Students

The Invisible Majority: Doubled-up Students in New York City Public Schools

Meeting the Child Care Needs of Homeless Families: How Do States Stack Up?

Number of ACS Child-Care Subsidies

Annual Family Income and Co-payment Levels for Subsidized Child Care

The Impact of High-quality Early Education on Low-income Children

Visit Our Other Sites: Quick Links:  

44 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
(212) 358-8086

E-mail ICPH |