Child Care: Essential to the U.S. Economy

By Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs & Advocacy and President, Save the Children Action Network (SCAN)

America’s long-term economic recovery depends upon the federal government prioritizing child care industry. Only when our nation’s children return to safe, high-quality educational settings that promote their successful development can millions of parents get back to work.

COVID-19 has placed an already fragile industry in an increasingly dire situation. Before the pandemic, access to child care was already out of reach for many families due to exorbitant costs or lack of availability. And, despite the substantial cost to parents, the child care workforce was underpaid, with a majority of workers relying on some form of public assistance for support. COVID-19 has put unimaginable stresses on an industry that was already struggling.

Since the outbreak, around one-third of child care providers have closed, average enrollment is down by 67 percent, and provider costs have almost doubled. The consequences have already devastated the industry, with approximately 200,000 jobs – 20 percent of the entire industry–lost nationwide. And, the projections for the future are just as catastrophic, with estimates suggesting 4.5 million child care slots could be lost forever.

Families, children and the broader economy are feeling the pandemic’s effect on the child care industry as well. Thirteen percent of working parents have lost a job or have had to reduce working hours due to a lack of child care and 1 in 4 parents have reported worsening mental health in their children. And this economic hardship disproportionately hurts people of color. Women of color make up 40 percent of child care workers, while parents of color are less likely to have the work flexibility and financial resources to cope with widespread closures.

Our leaders in Washington must work together to adopt legislation that provides significant investment to stabilize this critical industry before it’s too late.

  • First, immediate relief should be prioritized in order to prevent the additional loss of child care slots and growing child care deserts by offering direct financial support to providers during a time of lower enrollment and higher costs. An example of such relief is the bipartisan Child Care is Essential Act, which would include $50 billion in stabilization grants for providers.
  • Second, lawmakers must create legislation that promotes long-term financial investment in the child care industry. Models include the bipartisan Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act, which would provide funding to states to expand child care and invest in its workforce as well as the Rebuilding a Better Child Care Infrastructure Act, which would increase mandatory funding and provide funds over a two-year period to increase access and quality.

It’s clear. Reliable, accessible, sustainable child care is in the interest of every American. Not only does quality child care give children the best possible start in life, setting them on a path to success, but it empowers working parents to fully contribute, enabling our economy to thrive. Child care is essential to our shared future. We must treat it as such. 

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