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A second look at "Parenting in America"

By Nikki Yamashiro

Last month, we wrote a blog highlighting key findings from the Pew Research Center’s report, Parenting in America: Outlook, worries, aspirations are strongly linked to financial situation. Due to the enormous amount of questions asked in the Pew survey and the variety of demographic breakdowns covered in the 100-plus report, we weren’t able to dive deep into each and every one of the findings that stood out to us. Which is why we decided to go back, take a second look at the report, and this time take parents’ responses related to afterschool in Pew’s survey and compare them to parents’ responses from America After 3PM, our national household survey examining how children spend the hours after school.

A key takeaway from Pew’s report that I'd like to spend a little more time on are the socioeconomic and racial gaps that arise, especially when looking at parents’ ability to find afterschool opportunities for their children. The report found that for some parents—especially lower-income families and African-American parents—locating affordable, high-quality afterschool activities and programs in their community is challenging. More than half of families making less than $30,000 annually (52 percent) report that it is hard to find affordable, high-quality afterschool programs and activities. This is 23 percentage points higher than families with an annual income of over $75,000. African-American parents are even more likely to report difficulties. Fifty-six percent of African-American parents report that it is hard to find afterschool programs and activities. This is also higher than both White and Hispanic parents (35 percent and 38 percent, respectively). 

These socioeconomic and racial gaps mirror a few findings from our most recent America After 3PM survey. For example, America After 3PM found that more than half of low-income families (52 percent) and African-American families (55 percent) agreed that finding an enriching environment for their child in the hours after school was a challenge. America After 3PM also found that the demand for afterschool programs is much higher among low-income families compared to higher-income families. Half of children from low-income families would be enrolled in an afterschool program if one were available, compared to 34 percent of children from higher-income households. The demand for programs is also highest among African-American families, where 60 percent of African-American children who are not enrolled in a program would be if a program were available to them, compared to 57 percent of Hispanic children and 35 percent of White children.

It was also interesting to discover that the numbers in the Pew survey that look at where children are during the after school hours fall very much in line with what we reported in America After 3PM: Afterschool Programs in Demand. Although the questions in each survey were asked in slightly different manners—with the Pew survey focused on the “where” and America After 3PM focused on the “who”—each survey had similar findings. For instance, Pew found that a family’s home was the most common place children go to after school, with 70 percent of parents reporting that their children go home on a typical day after school. Similarly, in America After 3PM the majority of households (77 percent) reported that their child was regularly cared for by a parent or guardian.

When asked about afterschool programs, the Pew survey found that 18 percent of parents said that their child stayed at school for activities/went to afterschool activities, and 8 percent said that their child went to an after-care program, for a total of 26 percent of parents that report some type of activity or program for their child after school. In America After 3PM, 23 percent of households reported that their child regularly attended an afterschool program. Again, here, the Pew survey found a difference in afterschool arrangements based on income level, where the higher the income level of parents, the more likely they were to report that their children are in afterschool activities. Parents making more than $75,000 annually were almost two times as likely as parents making less than $30,000 to have their kids in afterschool programs or activities. 

"Parents making more than $75,000 annually were almost two times as likely as parents making less than $30,000 to have their kids in afterschool programs or activities."

There were a few differences between the two surveys when examining afterschool availability and afterschool participation. One difference is that, while the Pew survey found that Hispanic parents had less difficulties finding afterschool programs and activities, America After 3PM found Hispanic parents were more likely than both parents overall and African-American parents to report that finding an enriching afterschool program was challenging. Another big difference between the two surveys is that the Pew survey found that higher-income parents were much more likely to have a child in an afterschool program, whereas America After 3PM found that low-income parents were slightly more likely to report that their child is in an afterschool program. It’s difficult to identify exactly why there is a difference in answers, but two possibilities are:

  1. The question asked of parents in the Pew survey regarding availability was broader in nature, asking parents to think about the availability of afterschool activities and programs for their community, whereas America After 3PM asks parents to think specifically about their particular situation.
  2. Another important distinction between the two surveys is that the definition of an “afterschool program” was much more specific in America After 3PM. In America After 3PM, an afterschool program was one that “a child regularly attends that provides a supervised, enriching environment in the hours after the school day ends, typically around 3 p.m. These programs are usually offered in schools or community centers and are different from individual activities such as sports, special lessons, or hobby clubs, and different from childcare facilities that provide supervision but not enrichment."  On the other hand, the Pew survey left “after-school activities and programs” open to the interpretation of the respondent, and therefore could include activities that were specifically excluded in America After 3PM’s definition, such as “sports, special lessons, or hobby clubs”, as well as “childcare facilities that provide supervision but not enrichment.”

Despite those differences, what struck me about both surveys is the impact socioeconomic status and race have on the ability of parents to find and enroll their children in afterschool programs. We know that for every one child in an afterschool program, there are two more who are waiting to get in. It’s clear that there is much more work ahead to ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in affordable, quality afterschool programs, and we at the Afterschool Alliance are looking forward to meeting that challenge in the year to come.  

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