For the sake of families, we must reduce the cost of child care
The cost of child care is generating an economic and moral crisis within the United States. With yearly prices soaring above the cost of in-state college tuition in 28 states, parents are forced to spend large portions of their income on child care at a time when they have accumulated little wealth.
According to the Center for American Progress, on average, families making less than $1,500 per month in 2010 were spending 49.5 percent of their income on child care. Although there are child care assistance programs in place, the programs are not widely available. In 2011, only one in seven children eligible for assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grant received direct child care assistance.
Although the situation is worsening, there is little attention devoted to a situation that 31 percent of all Americans and 53 percent of black Americans classified as a “critical issue” in a 2017 PRRI survey. However, on Feb, 26, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rep. Gregario Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands) reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act of 2019, which is similar to the 2017 version.
The comprehensive bill, backed by 35 cosponsors in the Senate and 96 cosponsors in the House, would ensure that no family earning less than 150 percent of the state median income pays more than 7 percent in child care expenses. Families under 75 percent of the state median income would not be required to pay anything.
In addition to supporting families, the legislation would support universal access to preschool programs and improve compensation and training for the child care work force. The House Committee on Education and Labor estimates this would lead to an increase of 770,000 new child care jobs.
Advocacy organizations CLASP and Child Care Aware have already voiced their support for this bill that would increase access to high-quality child care for families that cannot afford it. The groups emphasize the important role of quality child care in families’ financial success as well as children’s healthy development.
According to the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs, early childhood programs generate $4-$9 returns on every $1 invested. Policies like the Child Care for Working Families Act can potentially generate savings for taxpayers by reducing the need for spending on costly interventions such as special education, grade repetition, early parenthood, and incarceration.
By investing in childhood development, there will be a ripple effect for parents and the country’s economy. According to a Washington Post analysis of Census data, parents make up a smaller share of the labor force than ever before. Right now, 41 percent of workers between 20 and 54 have a child, while 68 percent of workers did in 1968. Since child care can be more expensive than having an additional income, a 2015 Washington Post survey found that 62 percent of mothers and 36 percent of fathers stopped working or took a lesser job for child care reasons.
Economists Claudia Olivetti and Barbara Petrongolo, suggest that implementing a universal child care policy can increase fertility and decrease the gender wage gap. When women leave the work force to care for their children, they often have difficulty reentering. Consequently, a study in Denmark found that having one child could set a woman’s earnings back by 31 percent. However, with a child care subsidy, more women can continue to pursue their career and educational goals.
For the sake of families, the labor force, and the future productivity of our country, it is time to invest in our future and prioritize reducing the cost of child care.