Child Care: America’s Ticket to Economic Recovery

“As a working mother, I felt really left out by the state because they kind of said ‘I’m disposable;’ I was thrown out,” said Christina Jones about losing her job and not having any accessible child care for her two children, when the pandemic hit and altered her family’s life. It’s something felt by far too many people and the impact on family economics can be long-term. 

In its 2020 “Women in the Workplace” report, Lean In and McKinsey & Company found that one in four women considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the impact of COVID-19. They can’t find child care, likely either due to availability or cost. That also means businesses can’t find workers and supply chains break down.

By supporting children and families, we grow our whole economy.

Child Care Availability

North Carolina is considered a “child care desert” when it comes to infant toddler care, with a statewide average of more than five families with babies competing for every available licensed child care space.

Data shows clearly that supporting families supports the economy and, just like any other state, North Carolina can’t fully reopen and recover without child care. It helps to fill jobs today and prepare children for the workplace of tomorrow. Employers providing child care subsidies not only supports employees, but also helps local child care businesses get back on their feet.

Sadly, for decades we have treated child care as a private responsibility for families to navigate on their own. That model has left parents unable to find and afford care, early educators earning poverty-level wages, and mothers, like Christina, pushed out of the labor force with lifelong effects on their economic security. COVID has only exacerbated these inequities and families are getting left behind—particularly Black and Latina women and mothers who often have jobs that cannot be done remotely.

Addressing & Financing Child Care

But the pandemic has also shone a light on a fundamental truth: child care isn’t a luxury good or a private responsibility. It is a public good—an essential infrastructure that allows our economy to run, our communities and families to thrive, and our children to reach their full potential.

Early childhood advocates recommend that families spend a maximum of 10% of their net income on child care. In Rockingham County, NC a dual-income family with one child and a net income of $3,300 dollars can spend $532 a month on child care costs, or 15% of family income. A $150 per month stipend from an employer would drop the family’s spending on child care to 11% of their income. That’s significant.

Decisions are being made by policy-makers right now, and child care must be a top priority. We need a game-changing investment in child care, and we need it now. We can’t go back to the broken pre-pandemic status quo. The American Families Plan includes a proposal for a $450 billion investment in our nation’s child care and early education system, including a provision to ensure that all child care teachers earn a living wage. 

It is Time to Care

Our elected officials must work together to address the child care crisis once and for all with a significant, sustained investment in a high-quality, early education system that works for diverse children, families, providers, early educators, and communities.

People can’t get back to work if they don’t have access to stable, good child care. Child care is not just about returning to the workforce, which is essential. It’s also about nurturing the physical and mental health of our children — especially the most vulnerable. 

Christina’s daughters are now both old enough to attend first and second grade, so she’s making her way back into the workforce part-time, as her family tries to regain its footing. 

If we truly want to play fair and support recovery for both families and our economy, we need to guarantee access to affordable, high-quality child care, build and compensate the workforce, and give families the best options for care.