Blog | December 16, 2020

A Strong America has...Great Child Care

Making America strong means making sure we have great child care

Barry D. Ford, J.D.

As this extraordinary year comes to a close, we are, as is appropriate for this time of year, reflecting. We are reflecting on the lives we have lost. We are reflecting on the hope made possible by tremendous scientific advances in the development of promising vaccines. We’re reflecting on how our lives have changed, from how we work to how we spend time with our families. And we are reflecting on how the multiple challenges this year have highlighted the limits and gaps in our social safety net systems and how those limitations underscore the urgent need to invest much more in reimagining those systems.

One of our systems in desperate need of significantly increased investment and support is child care. Two-thirds of children under the age of 6 have all adult guardians in the household in the workforce. For these families, accessible, affordable, high-quality child care is essential to their children’s healthy development and peace of mind. It is also foundational to any sustained and equitable recovery and growth in our economy. Unfortunately, working parents around the country do not have access to high-quality and affordable child care for a myriad of reasons. Some parents live in child care deserts, which are areas where there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. Others can’t afford the astronomically high prices of child care; in 30 states, infant care costs more than in-state college tuition. Simultaneously, the child care sector faces challenges around quality, including high turnover rates, as under-compensated providers struggle to make ends meet and leave the field.

Child care across the country has been inaccessible and out of reach for many families who need it the most.

In a 2019 ReadyNation report, we found that the economic impacts of the nation’s infant-and-toddler child care crisis on working parents, employers, and taxpayers exact an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. This year, those staggering numbers have only increased, as child care businesses have struggled to stay open.

Providers face increased costs across health, infrastructure, PPE and safety protocols, teacher training, and safety requirements. At the same time, providers also face decreases in revenue due to lower enrollments to allow social distancing. In July, nationwide, 40 percent of child care centers and 27 percent of home-based child care providers were closed, according to survey research conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a national professional membership organization of early educators. These closures have made it difficult for working parents to receive the support they need to provide for their families. Of course, closures impacted early educators, as well, with thousands out of work.

While child care has always been central to our work, this year, that effort took on new urgency as we advocated for dedicated relief for the child care sector. Our economic recovery is dependent on child care providers being able to re-open and remain open. We have worked closely with Congress to support efforts to provide funding through emergency-relief bills to stabilize the child care sector. Across the states, we have worked closely with our allies to support child care providers and educate policymakers about the importance of maintaining crucial early childhood funding.

As we consider solutions to address the country’s child care crisis, we must look at how rural communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by this issue. In our recent report, entitled “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines America’s Rural Communities,“ we found that children in rural communities often lack resources and support, including quality early childhood care and education. One-quarter of these children live in poverty, and in rural counties with persistently high child poverty, the majority of children are Black or of color. Of children under age 6 with working parents with low incomes, about 16 percent—more than 776,000 children— live in non-metro areas. The struggles of working parents in rural communities are often different or more severe than those of working parents in more metropolitan areas. As policymakers consider implementing child care relief efforts, they must support tailored investments for children in rural communities to ensure our nation’s future strength. For example, a focus on home-based child care, as highlighted in another of our recent reports, is critical, as rural families are more likely to use this type of care.

As we start a new year and welcome new public leadership from Washington to statehouses and local communities, addressing child care challenges must be a top priority at every level of government. Lawmakers need to come together across party lines to accomplish this goal. We’ve made some important strides in 2020, but there is so much more work to be done. Strengthening and expanding the child care sector will help our economy recover and flourish and better our country for generations to come.

The Making a Strong America blog series, authored by Council for a Strong America President and CEO Barry Ford, unpacks the question: What makes America strong? In a time of great uncertainty and deep ideological division, Making a Strong America will examine issues related to the thriving of children and families that communities throughout the country face and how they affect this country’s safety, security, and growth.


Barry D. Ford, J.D.

President and CEO

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