It’s Time to Prioritize Repairing and Strengthening the Child Care Sector
Council for a Strong America's President and CEO Barry Ford addresses reforming the child care sector
As more Americans and people around the world get the COVID-19 vaccine, returning to some kind of “normal” seems more feasible. The light at the end of what has been a very long tunnel appears to be within sight. While the progress we have made over the last several months has been encouraging, there’s much to repair and build moving forward.
Our lives have changed significantly since the start of the pandemic. We cannot expect, nor should we expect, things to revert to their pre-pandemic state. The multiple challenges we’ve experienced this year highlighted the limits and gaps in our social safety net. Those limitations underscore the urgent need to invest substantially to strengthen and reimagine those systems. One of those systems is child care, particularly for infants and toddlers.
Council for a Strong America, primarily through our business leader group, ReadyNation, has long recognized that access to quality infant and toddler early care and education is critical to the strength of our economy and the success of American families. In a 2019 ReadyNation report, we documented the impact that the lack of quality and affordable infant-and-toddler child care has on America’s economy. The report found that the nation’s infant-and-toddler child care crisis cost the American economy $57 billion annually in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue.
To build an early care and education system that is resilient, robust, and equitable, we now know that we must make substantial changes to how we fund and support early care and education for our youngest children. That is why I am honored to be the Co-Chair of the National Collaborative For Infants and Toddlers (NCIT) steering committee. NCIT is comprised of national- and state-level organizations committed to building a national movement focused on advancing meaningful investments in our nation’s early childhood development. The steering committee will help promote and enact innovative ways to repair fragile child care systems around the country. Our goal is to expand participation in high-quality services for at least one million low-income infants and toddlers and their families by 2023 to get them on track for school.
We have a lot to do. Long before the pandemic, the child care sector was already in crisis. With 78 percent of parents of infants and toddlers in the workforce, the need is significant. These families need accessible, affordable, high-quality child care for two key reasons: 1) to support their children’s healthy development; and 2) to help working parents be present and productive at work. High-quality child care programs both provide infants and toddlers with the tools they need to succeed down the road, and give parents the peace-of-mind and stability to help them succeed professionally. This essential service helps strengthen our economy by supporting the workforce of today and developing the workforce of tomorrow that businesses need to thrive.
Child care is foundational to any sustained and equitable recovery and growth in our economy. Unfortunately, many working parents across the country do not have access to high-quality and affordable child care for a myriad of reasons. Some live in child care deserts, areas in which 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, center-based infant care costs more than in-state college tuition.
At the same time, providers in the child care sector face challenges of narrow margins, low wages, and a fragile funding structure largely dependent on family fees. The pandemic has only exacerbated the stress on the child care field, working families, and our economy. Thousands of child care providers and early educators lost their jobs, as their centers and schools closed. Child care providers had to navigate safety protocols that were constantly changing, which exacted a massive financial toll. These providers also had to figure out how to stay open to provide services for front-line workers.
Resources flowing now as a result of federal government support have ameliorated the crisis in the field, but there is so much more work to be done. As we start to seriously think about the next chapter—a post-pandemic chapter—strengthening and expanding child care for the good of our infants and toddlers, working parents, economy, and communities at large must be a top priority for lawmakers. Investing in this vital sector will help our country recover and flourish for generations to come.
Read More About