Barriers to employment

While there are many who want or need to work to raise their families, many face circumstances that make steady employment difficult to acquire and maintain. These circumstances and conditions are also known as barriers to employment. People with such barriers include people with a history of mental or physical health issues, a criminal or substance abuse background and also those with a lack of work experience, transportation or childcare arrangements.

Those who face one or more of these barriers tend to face prejudicial hiring and  employment conditions and may have to put up with discrimination at the workplace. For instance, employers and bosses may discriminate against working parents who might have to leave work early occasionally to tend to their children’s needs. Another example would be hiring managers discriminating against those who have a criminal record.

Childcare as barriers to employment

Childcare is both an economic necessity and a barrier to employment for most families. In 2015, 65% of children in the US under six have either both parents or a single parent in the workforce. Most working parents are struggling with considerable barriers in terms of finding affordable, trustworthy childcare.

Many families are finding that more of their family budget is being consumed by the cost of childcare. While wages have remained largely stagnant, childcare expenses have been on the rise. For families living in poverty, those who pay for childcare spend over one-third of their total income on childcare.

Even if we put aside the issues of cost, there is the question about the quality of childcare that one can get. In low-income neighbourhoods, parents may be deprived of options for quality care. Parents would either have to fork out more money to pay for better quality childcare or have to travel further from home to find better options.

Moreover, if they require childcare for infants rather than toddlers, then childcare becomes even more expensive and difficult to find. Such young children require more individualised attention and specialised equipment like cribs.

Childcare crisis keeping mothers out of workforce

In March 2019, a group of mothers working for Amazon initiated an advocacy campaign, urging the company to provide them with backup childcare benefits. Their central argument was that a lack of affordable childcare has prevented talented women from progressing with their careers.

In this regard, the mothers’ advocacy group is calling for Amazon to subsidise a backup childcare option for when their primary childcare arrangements fall through. For instance, if the grandparents were supposed to look after the kids but have since fallen ill, then Amazon would help subsidise childcare for such parents.

Many families with young children face the decision between spending a lion’s share of their salary on childcare, finding cheaper but questionable care option or leaving the workforce altogether to become a full-time parent. However, mothers seem to disproportionately take on unpaid caregiving responsibilities when their families are unable to afford childcare and more often than not, mothers instead of fathers, take a break from work to look after their children.

This has been dubbed as the “children penalty”, or that the desire to care for children has led to reduced participation in the workplace for women, whether part-time, underemployment or unemployment. This has led to the phenomenon of the “nappy valley” of employment for women where there is a sharp decrease in the percentage of women in work once they hit childbearing age.

While it is not that women are less able to find childcare than men, the fact remains that they either expect or wish to be the one who takes care of the children. In contrast, when men consider their working lives and careers, they are less inclined to consider the issue of caring for their children. Thus, the issue of women’s workforce participation will not sufficiently be ameliorated by childcare subsidies but will actually require a change in culture.


Watch this YouTube video which explores why parents spend so much on childcare, yet early childhood teachers earn so little.


Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Do you think childcare costs are a barrier to employment in Singapore? Why or why not?
  2. What are the issues relating to women’s workforce participation? What are some realistic measures that can be done to address them?


Useful vocabulary: 

  1. workforce’: the people engaged in or available for work, either in a country or area or in a particular firm or industry
  2. ameliorate’: make (something bad or unsatisfactory) better


Here are more related articles for further reading:


  1. The Atlantic: How parents work to pay for childcare so that they can work


If all or most of one parent’s income were being canceled out by the costs of child care, perhaps the obvious solution would be for that parent to simply, like Tiffany, stop working and stay at home. But as Blau pointed out, in many cases, it’s not a one-to-one ratio; a significant portion of the income may be going to child care, but perhaps the rest is needed to buy the groceries or make the monthly rent payment. “Even if [child care] is eating up half of a parent’s income, the family may need the other half so much that they just have to keep working,” Blau said. Buttigieg’s catchy phrasing, in other words, conveys what one might even say is the easiest version of this problem to solve: It implies a sort of perfectly symbiotic relationship between child care and paid income, like you could drop one and thus cancel the need for the other—when in reality, many couples need both.


And single parents, Blau added, are in an even tougher spot. “Single parents have much less of a choice,” she said. Because in a single-parent household forfeiting one income would mean forfeiting the only income, “those parents just have to figure out how to do all of it.”


  1. New York Times: How criminal records become a barrier to employment


The ready availability of criminal records databases has fueled the perception that it is irresponsible for employers to ignore available information. Local governments increasingly put criminal records online, and private companies like HireRight, Sterling BackCheck and LexisNexis Risk Solutions aggregate those records, offering almost instant results. In the early 1990s, less than half of companies routinely checked criminal histories. Now relatively few refrain.


“Criminal background screening is an important tool — nearly the only tool — that employers have to protect their customers, their employees and themselves from criminal behavior,” Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, testified before a congressional committee last year. Local, state and federal governments have embraced the same logic, writing background checks into professional licensing requirements and post-9/11 security regulations.


These policies affect a growing number of people. About 10 percent of nonincarcerated men had felony records in 2010, up from 4 percent in 1980, according to research led by the sociologists Sarah Shannon of the University of Georgia and Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota. The numbers are much higher among African-American men: About 25 percent of nonincarcerated black men had been convicted of a felony, up from 9 percent in 1980.


The problem with criminal background checks, in Mr. Uggen’s view, is a lack of deliberation about what employers should be looking for. Some employers ask about convictions for felonies; some ask only about narrow categories of felony like violent crimes or sex crimes. Others ask about any arrest whatsoever. “We haven’t really figured out what a disqualifying offense should be for particular activities,” he said.