Blog | September 2, 2021

Child Care and Military Readiness

Mission: Readiness members share the national security implications of addressing the child care crisis

In the latest edition of In Her Words, a bi-weekly newsletter on women, gender, and society from The New York Times, author Alisha Haridasani Gupta details the history of the military child care system.

Gupta profiles the work of Linda Smith, widely regarded as the architect of the system, to overhaul how the Department of Defense cares for the children of our men and women in uniform. Just over three decades after Congress passed the Military Child Care Act, 97 percent of providers are accredited, and parents are not plagued with many of the accessibility, quality, and affordability challenges experienced by their civilian counterparts. As Gupta’s piece details, the program is “considered essential to military readiness” – it ensures that servicemembers can carry out their responsibilities without having to worry that their children are safe and being taken care of.

Today, the military’s child care system is seen by many advocates as a potential blueprint for replication in the civilian sector. Earlier this year, Mission: Readiness members and Smith discussed how Pennsylvania could learn from the military system to strengthen access to child care in the Keystone State. Additionally, a pair of respected Mission: Readiness members recently wrote that failure to address the access challenges faced by the civilian sector actually threatens our future readiness.

In Why the child care crisis is a national security issue, published in the prominent Beltway publication, The Hill, General (Ret.) John R. Allen, U.S. Marine Corps, and General (Ret.) Lester Lyles, U.S. Air Force, wrote:

…the military is only as strong as the nation it represents, and the child care crisis is doing real and growing harm to the future of our youngest Americans, and inevitably to the future security of our country. Left unabated, millions of American parents — particularly from historically disadvantaged communities — will be forced out of the workforce while tens of millions of children won’t get the care and attention they need to succeed later in life.

For years, the military leaders of Mission: Readiness have championed high-quality early education and care, because research shows that high-quality programs can mitigate the major barriers that keep 71 percent of young Americans from the opportunity of military service: educational deficiencies, obesity, or a record of crime or drug abuse. Successful programs can actually broaden the future pool of eligible recruits, ensuring children are prepared to enter the military or succeed elsewhere in the workforce.

But as Generals Allen and Lyles wrote, not only does the child care crisis challenge our future national security – it is actively driving parents from the workforce. A recent report by ReadyNation found that 15 percent of all women between the ages of 25 to 44 were not working in spring 2021 due to problems with child care, and approximately 2.4 million mothers left the workforce during the pandemic. With female labor force participation responsible for $7.6 trillion in U.S. GDP every year, ensuring that child care is accessible and affordable is critical for America’s national security and economic strength.

The story of the military child care system may provide lessons for policymakers looking to address this growing crisis. Lawmakers at the state and federal level should look to this example when trying to improve access to child care among civilians. But one thing is clear: addressing our nation’s child care crisis is a national security and economic imperative. Failure to address the growing problem will jeopardize our nation’s future.

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