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Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst

Karen Schulman is a Senior Policy Analyst in NWLC's Family Economic Security division. She researches and writes about child care and early education policies. She received her bachelor's degree from Williams College and her master's degree in Public Policy from Duke University. Prior to joining NWLC, she worked at the Children's Defense Fund. She enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews and is glad they will grow up thinking there is nothing unusual about a woman being Speaker of the House or running for President.

My Take

Low-Wage Jobs, High-Cost Child Care, and Stay-at-Home Moms

The percentage of mothers who stayed at home increased from a low of 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center [PDF]. This represents a turn-around from the trend in previous decades, when the percentage of mothers who stayed at home steadily declined from 47 percent in 1970.

There are many possible explanations for the recent increase in the number of mothers staying at home—but economic factors clearly play a major part.

Women deciding to enter today’s labor force face daunting prospects—unemployment rates remain well above pre-recession levels and jobs are hard to come by. In fact, Pew reports that the share of women who stay home with their children because they cannot find a job has risen by five percentage points since 2000. And when jobs can be found, they are very low-wage. NWLC analysis shows that over one-third of women’s job gains [PDF] since 2009 have been in the 10 largest low-wage occupations, which typically pay $10.10 or less per hour. 


Child Care and Head Start Success Stories Show Need for More Investment - Not Cuts

Posted by Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst | Posted on: April 01, 2014 at 01:06 pm

Congressman Paul Ryan released his budget blueprint today and, although it does not provide detailed proposals on funding for each federal program, his budget would severely reduce overall discretionary funding, a category that encompasses many programs that benefit women and their families.  Meeting Ryan’s budget targets would likely require deep cuts in programs such as child care assistance and Head Start—programs that enable families to make ends meet and to ultimately improve their lives.  The positive impacts of these and other supports  are vividly illustrated by the stories collected in a new booklet by Half in Ten.  Our American Story: Personal Stories on the War on Poverty’s Legacy [PDF] compiles the stories of 30 individuals who have been helped by programs that have given parents the chance to work and obtain education credentials that enable them to gain more stable and better-paying employment, and that have given their children learning opportunities they need to succeed in the future.

In one of these stories, Rebecca of Barnesville, Minnesota describes how she and her family have succeeded thanks to safety net programs:


President's FY15 Budget Proposal Highlights Early Learning

Posted by Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst | Posted on: March 05, 2014 at 12:28 pm

There is good news for young children in President Obama’s budget proposal. The President demonstrates his continued commitment to ensuring children have a strong start by proposing significant new investments in early learning. These investments would support more high-quality options for infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children. The investments would be funded through base discretionary and mandatory funding as well as through a new Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative. This initiative would be supported by savings from changes to mandatory programs and the reduction of a tax break for wealthy individuals, with the additional funding split between defense and domestic programs, including early learning programs. The President’s budget would also fund a major expansion of high-quality preschool programs for four-year-olds through a tobacco tax increase, as proposed in last year’s budget.


Low Reimbursement Rates Shortchange Wisconsin’s Children and Child Care Providers

Posted by Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst | Posted on: November 22, 2013 at 03:46 pm

Reimbursement rates paid to child care providers that serve families receiving child care assistance in Wisconsin have been frozen for the past seven years, which has deprived providers of the resources they need to support high-quality care and has limited families’ child care options, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. In 2006, maximum rates were at the federally recommended level, sufficient to cover the price of 75 percent of child care slots, but now rates cover the price of just 23 percent of child care slots. When reimbursement rates are lower than the fee providers charge private-paying parents—as is now the case for over three-quarters of the slots in the Wisconsin—providers may refuse to serve families receiving child care assistance, may ask parents to pay the difference between the reimbursement rate and the provider’s private-pay fee, or may be forced to absorb the lost income themselves.

The failure to update rates has meant significant financial losses for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance. For example, a center’s annual shortfall for each two- or three-year-old receiving child care assistance—the difference between the state’s current reimbursement rate and what the rate would be if set at the federally recommended level based on current market prices—ranges from $500 to $3,450 (depending on the county).


Strong Start Legislation Kick Starts Effort to Expand Early Learning Opportunities

Posted by Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst | Posted on: November 13, 2013 at 02:16 pm

Today, the country took a great step forward for children and their families with the introduction of the Strong Start for America's Children Act, which would significantly expand high-quality early learning opportunities for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative George Miller (D-CA), and Representative Richard Hanna (R-NY), would increase access to high-quality preschool for four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families through state-federal partnerships. The bill would also increase access to high-quality infant and toddler care. 

Under the legislation, states would receive funds to serve four-year-olds from families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty. (Once a state or community made preschool available to all of its eligible four-year-olds, it could use the funds to serve three-year-olds from families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty.) Preschool programs could be provided in a range of settings, such as schools, child care centers, or Head Start programs. All providers would have to meet certain standards to ensure a high-quality experience for children, including setting small class sizes and low child-staff ratios, having well-qualified and well-compensated teachers, providing professional development for teachers, operating on a full-school-day schedule, offering evidence-based curricula and learning environments, conducting ongoing monitoring and program evaluation for continuous improvement, providing comprehensive health and nutrition services, and encouraging family engagement.