New Report: North Carolina Economy and Child Care Industry Inextricably Linked

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For Immediate Release

Media Contact: 

Lindsay K. Saunders, NC Early Childhood Foundation

(919) 895-3290 x 701

Child care availability is a key challenge contributing to the divergent economic futures for NC families.

Raleigh, NC – The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) released results today from a statewide survey on how families are navigating child care and work before and during COVID-19 and implications for future attainment success.

While COVID-19 has impacted all North Carolinians, the impacts are felt differently based on one’s social and economic standing. North Carolina’s continued economic recovery from COVID-19 will require sustained attention to regional variations in child care availability and access to ensure robust workforce participation and educational attainment, especially among families with low socioeconomic status (SES), and working women in low SES households. 

“The heavy burden that U.S. society places on single mothers to manage their family, work responsibilities and more, can greatly impact these parents’ lives and the foundation of their children’s lives,” said NCECF Executive Director Muffy Grant. “This report reveals that low SES single mothers are leaving post secondary education, due to the lack of accessible and affordable child care. The results may very well have a negative impact on our state’s myFutureNC attainment goal.”

It is expected that due to differential economic and social conditions across the state, the impact and hence recovery from COVID-19 may vary; however, there is a need to ensure that vulnerable regions with structural inequities (e.g., poverty, housing, transportation) must be addressed and prioritized.

Findings include that:

  • Continued economic recovery from COVID-19 will require sustained attention to child care affordability and availability for families, especially for mothers in low socioeconomic status households who have children under the age of three. 

  • Women constitute the majority of part-time, low-wage workers for many NC communities and disproportionately serve as the primary caregiver in the home. 

  • In NC, child care enrollment was reduced by 40% across the state due to the pandemic, despite only 2% of open providers closing. Moreover, approximately 21% of NC child care providers were flagged as being at risk of closing by the end of 2021. 

  • Approximately, 400,000 working parents across NC are assumed to be constrained by child care needs, given that there are an estimated 610,000 children, aged 0-5 years. For example, on average, families in North Carolina pay nearly 41% more for child care than for rent, and families with one infant and one toddler spend one third of their income on child care.

  • Families with children, ages 3-5 years old, were likely to have subsidized child care (~40%) compared to families of infants of toddlers (~20%).

  • Availability of child care was inconsistent across the state, with more than half of families, with children, in NC living in areas designated as “child care deserts,” with less than one slot for every three children aged 0-5 years.

  • While the majority of parents reported that centers make up the majority of programs their children attended, regardless of residence in the eight prosperity zones reviewed, the percent of children in home care across the state varied. 

Regional differences aside, there is a need to ensure a robust child care system that is available and accessible to meet the diversity of families’ needs, especially for parents of infants and toddlers. Furthermore, this report highlights the role of employers to ensure families with young children have employer-sponsored benefits, such as flexible working hours and in many cases predictable schedules, on-site child care, flexible spending account, and encouragement for families to use available benefits (e.g., paid family leave, emergency leave, child care referral service).

“Our survey analysis spotlights the inextricably linked relationship between child care and COVID economic recovery,” said Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka, Research Professor in the UNC Department of Public Policy and Fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. “It pinpoints priorities: to provide affordable and accessible child care to families with low SES, and working women in low SES households. If we want to close the opportunity gap for working families, here’s the place to start.”

NCECF’s parent survey data will be considered, along with other research and policy analysis, as part of statewide conversations among early childhood experts, child care providers, policymakers, business and community leaders, and parents. The team will partner with stakeholders to suggest a data-driven path forward to solve North Carolina’s child care crisis.

To learn more, reach out to Lindsay K. Saunders, read the full report or view and download an overview one-pager focused on: (1) the future of North Carolina’s economy, (2) uneven recovery across NC prosperity zones, or (3) barriers to educational attainment & career success.

As the state’s only organization focused exclusively on children from birth through age eight, the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation works to promote understanding, spearhead collaboration and advance policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success by the end of third grade. Learn more online at