Report | September 28, 2021

Child Care Challenges Undermine Missouri’s Strength

High-quality child care can help increase public safety, grow the economy, and enhance national security

Missouri’s working parents know how difficult it is to find child care that’s accessible, affordable, and truly beneficial to their child’s development during one of the most crucial periods of life. Additionally, Missouri employers know the negative economic impact of these child care challenges. COVID-19 has exacerbated these challenges.

Our 2019 ReadyNation national study found that the infant-toddler child care crisis has an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. These costs impact working parents, employers, and taxpayers. As this study focused just on infants and toddlers, it severely underestimated the economic impact of shortcomings in the overall child care system.

The stakes are enormously high for the many Missouri families who depend on parents’ employment, as well as for children, who depend on nurturing, stimulating environments for healthy brain development during the first three years of life to set them on the path to productive lives.

But there are other consequences. Missouri jails are full of people serving time for serious and costly crimes. It doesn’t have to be that way. Providing at-risk children with high-quality early learning opportunities can help reduce the human and fiscal costs of crime in the future, by setting children up for success in school and beyond.

Further, our national security relies on qualified young adults who are ready, willing, and able to serve in the U.S. military. However, educational deficits, health issues, and behavior problems (substance abuse and crime) currently prevent 71 percent of Missouri youth from qualifying for service. Healthy early brain development sets the stage for children’s future success. Without improvements to the child care system, our nation risks having an even smaller recruiting pool in the future.

The recent infusion of federal funds through the American Rescue Plan and other packages provides Missouri with an opportunity to shore up its child care system to better meet the needs of children and families. Our state should use these federal funds to stabilize child care programs, strengthen the early childhood workforce, and improve the quality of child care. Action and innovation now can improve the experiences of Missouri children today and strengthen our state in the years to come.

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