Investing in child care paves the way to a better economy
As a member of Congress and the leader of YWCA USA, a network that serves over 200,000 children annually through child care, Head Start, and Pre-K programs, we join together to urge support for substantial investment in child care by the federal government.
As lawmakers in Washington plan the modernization of America’s infrastructure, we contend that to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and advance our country’s financial growth fairly and equitably, uplifting the care economy must be part of that effort.
When parents are working, they need safe and nurturing care for their children. Yet out-of-home market rate child care across the country ranges from $5,000 to $25,000 annually, putting child care out of reach for the majority of working parents and nearly all low-income working parents. This has short- and long-term financial implications that not only affect earnings but also savings and retirement, especially for women.
And that’s only one side of the coin. Women, mostly women of color, make up 94 percent of the child care economy, often earning poverty wages with no benefits.
So, we face a serious dilemma: how can we make child care more affordable for working families and provide quality care and programming, and at the same time pay child care workers for the value of their work?
Here’s an answer. Just as our government invests in roads and bridges, it must robustly invest in the child care system; because just like roads and bridges, child care is a public good that is necessary for our economy to function, as well as for the economic security of women and families.
To those who say, “It’s not my problem,” think of it this way: We each pay taxes to build and improve roads, some of which we will personally never drive on. We do that because without safe passageways for trucks to haul goods and for cars to get people to work, our economy would suffer.
You may not have a child, but if a worker on the assembly line building your car or in the field picking your food is a parent, they most likely need out-of-home care for their sons and daughters. The fact is, quality affordable child care has become inaccessible for most Americans and is built on the backs of low-wage workers, disproportionately women of color.
Help is needed now more than ever before as we have experienced an unprecedented loss of jobs by women, a “she-cession,” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep in mind that the child care industry was already facing a crisis before the start of COVID-19. Providers were struggling to hire and maintain qualified staff, pay them competitive wages, and provide adequate slots to meet demand. More than half the country lived in child care deserts: areas where there are more than three children under five-years-old for every available child care slot.
The pandemic took this situation from bad to worse. The Bipartisan Policy Center found that 60 percent of licensed child care providers had to close or reduce hours during COVID-19 as parents lost jobs or started working from home. As parents start going back to work, it is time to support them and further our economy. That means making child care more affordable for working families while also paying fair, livable wages and providing skills-based training to our child care workers.
We join those who support a new federal infrastructure plan that makes serious, long-term investments in child care. This starts with providing child care workers a living wage, benefits, and training comparable to K-12 teachers in their region with similar qualifications, to keep up with the growing demands of the 21st century workforce. It is what the hardworking individuals who take care of the most important people in our lives — our kids — deserve.
We must also make sure high-quality child care is affordable and accessible for all families. This means eliminating the long waiting lists for financial assistance for our working families and ensuring no family pays more for child care than what the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers affordable — 7 percent of a family’s income.
In the wealthiest nation on earth, there is no excuse for child care workers to live in poverty or for parents who want to return to work to not be able to because child care is too costly. The time for serious federal investments in the child care system is now.
Lois Frankel represents Florida’s 21st District and Elisha Rhodes is Interim CEO and Chief Operating Officer at YWCA USA.