When I met Rochelle about 10 years ago she was a new mother and a recent high school graduate. She was working part-time in sales at the same department store where I was employed. She picked up extra hours when she could, but that didn’t grant her full-time benefits such as sick days, vacations, and health insurance. Some time later she was offered full-time work and she took it. Her mother cared for the baby when she was at work. Rochelle worked hard, got small raises and was even named one of the top sales people in the store one year. Eventually she earned some benefits.
Three years after her first child was born, Rochelle had her second child. Though working full time and eligible for health care benefits, Rochelle could not afford the cost of the benefit and so Medicaid paid for the birth of her second child as well. Her mother continued to care now for two children and Rochelle continued to work full time. Two years later she had her third and last child. She still had no health insurance and so again Medicaid paid for the medical expenses. When asked why she had a third child when she was having a hard time paying the expenses for two children, Rochelle really had no answer. “I don’t know. I just didn’t think about that,” Rochelle always tells me. She did, however, listen to her doctor and decided to have her fallopian tubes tied at the time of the birth of her third child. She was 24.
A few years later the department store closed and Rochelle was left without a job. Her mother’s health problems had increased, and she was no longer able to care for the children as much as she had done previously. The economy had taken a severe downturn so jobs were not plentiful. When Rochelle’s unemployment ran out she accepted a job at a residential adult care facility for $7.65 an hour. This is where she currently works. $7.65 per hour is much less than she had earned at the department store, and the hours she now works make for very long days. Rochelle works from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. This means her mother cares for the children only two days a week. Rochelle hates the job. The pay is low, the hours are awful, and management appears not only to be lax in the care of the residents, but someone, or many, are stealing money, supplies and food from the facility. Rochelle has called me in tears from work telling me she is about to quit. When she started, the home was staffed with two people per shift, but now she is usually by herself. That means double work. But she can’t quit. She needs the job. She has herself and three children to feed and clothe and house. Somehow Rochelle needs to find better employment.
Rochelle is actively looking for a better job. She recently interviewed with a better paying company. She was called back for a second interview. It was looking hopeful except the job required some evenings. There was no one to care for her children during those hours. “I’m not taking the job,” Rochelle told me at the next interview we had. “My momma can’t care for the kids.” Childcare is what is holding her back. Rochelle is ready, willing and able to work a better job. She is hoping something can be worked out with the school system when her youngest child starts kindergarten this coming fall. The youngest isn’t eligible for after school care now. Childcare is the key to a better job for Rochelle, as it is for many other American women like her. When there is no childcare available, there are very few jobs to choose from.