Child care crucial to the nation’s economic recovery
Affordable, quality child care isn’t a women’s issue, nor a children’s issue. Rather, it’s required to get our economy back on its feet.
As an early childhood educator, I have seen firsthand the effects of our nation’s failure to prioritize the importance of affordable, quality child care. I’ve watched women make extreme sacrifices for child care. They exist in an insane vortex that only provides child care assistance if they are working, but doesn’t offer any assistance for attending job interviews.
I’ve witnessed women in homeless shelters making desperate decisions to find child care to attend job interviews, including leaving their babies with virtual strangers. Women motivated to find employment quickly became disheartened by a system that doesn’t value affordable, quality child care and missed opportunities to become wage earners and build a better life for their families. Other women barely break even when they compare their take-home salary with child care costs.
These are among the many reasons that the U.S. Senate must preserve the $400 billion to provide free universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and the $200 billion in child care tax credits in the Housepassed Build Back Better Act. Otherwise, our post-pandemic economy won’t significantly improve for working moms.
Rising child care costs are out of control. Washington, D.C., has more expensive child care than any state: $24,243 per year or $2,020 per month. The 10 states with the highest child care costs include Connecticut ($15,591), New York ($15,394), Maryland ($15,335) and Virginia ($14,063).
These crushing child care costs damage our children’s education, forcing high quality, but underpaid teachers who are mothers to quit to take higher-paying jobs, like bartending, often at night, so their spouses can care for their kids when they get home from their day jobs.
In fact, when the pandemic erupted in the spring of 2020, roughly 3.5 million mothers with school-age children either lost jobs, took leaves of absence, or left the labor market altogether, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. On Nov. 4, the Federal Reserve: concluded: “increased caregiving burdens appear to account for more than three-quarters of the decline in the labor force participation rate of mothers with school-aged children since February 2020.”
In short, our nation’s child care system failed these moms and their families. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently acknowledged this fact: “It’s past time that we treat child care as what it is: an element whose contribution to economic growth is as essential as infrastructure or energy.”
Under the BBB’s universal preschool plan, parents would be able to send their children to a public school or child care program of their choice for free. The child tax credit would provide parents with $300 every month per child under age six and $250 every month per child ages 6-17.
Women shouldn’t be left on their own to fight for significantly fewer child care slots that have gotten increasingly more expensive. The formula is simple: women cannot work if there is no affordable, quality child care and if women can’t work, the economy suffers in a myriad of ways. We all have all experienced longer waits for a variety of online and offline services available due to the significant labor shortage. If we fund child care, service workers can go back to work. Quality child care centers that often operate on a shoestring budget can offer higher salaries and increase available slots, allowing more women to go back to work and get our economy back on track.
We are creating generation after generation of families who don't have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty simply because we don't recognize the importance of early childhood education and quality child care.
The most alarming statistic surrounding child care costs is that poor families and single mothers have a significantly higher child care cost burden (percentage of income spent on child care) than wealthier families. No one should have to sacrifice quality child care while they are working outside of the home and contributing to restoring the economy.
Again, that’s why the Senate must preserve the child care and preschool funding in the House-passed Build Back Better Act. Affordable, quality child care isn’t a women’s issue, nor a children’s issue. Rather, it’s required to get our economy back on its feet.