As our country’s approach to the pandemic evolves from one of “containment” to “reopening the economy,” elected officials are hearing more and more about the child care industry and asking themselves the ever-important question: “Can America reopen without child care?” The answer is no.
This is not a new issue. As leaders of prominent nonprofits dedicated to prioritizing the needs and welfare of children, we have been sounding the alarm on the lack of access to affordable child care for years. While we are encouraged that child care may, finally, be getting the attention it so desperately needs, Congress and the current administration must listen to the American people and protect this indispensable industry.
Prior to the onset of the current pandemic, more than half of Americans lived in a child care desert, meaning there are more than three times as many children as there are licensed child care slots. COVID-19 has exacerbated this early care and learning disparity. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, nearly half of child care providers have completely closed their facilities and many anticipate that they will not survive a closure of more than two weeks without support.
Each and every day, we hear from providers who are closing, having to let staff go or trying to operate even without much needed personal protective equipment. On top of this, providers do not know how they will pay their rent and utility bills, especially during the upcoming summer months, when many already go into the red. One Maryland provider said, “Right now, I need federal policy makers to take a deeper look at the child care industry and realize the impact we have on the working world should we not be able to operate our business.”
Unfortunately, it has taken a pandemic to bring the child care industry to the forefront of the national discussion. And, in fact, it has had a hugely powerful impact on public opinion surrounding child care. A survey jointly commissioned by Save the Children Action Network and Child Care Aware of America found that nearly 9 in 10 voters – 87 percent – support direct federal assistance for child care providers during the crisis so they can meet payroll and pay rent and utilities. Significantly, this support crosses party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats in support.
In other words, the overwhelming majority of American voters want Congress to catch the quickly falling child care industry. The funding from the CARES Act – while a good first step – was not enough. While many child care providers are small-business owners, they make up a $100 billion industry which employs over 1.5 million people. Voters see the value here, not only for their children, but also for the American economy.
We need child care to ensure children are given the necessary developmental foundations for success in life and in school. After all, 90 percent of a child’s brain is fully developed before the age of five.
We need child care for essential workers to ensure that the heroes on the front lines – health care workers, delivery personnel, first responders and others – are able to keep us safe without having to worry about the well-being of their children.
As the nation is beginning to realize, we need child care to reopen the economy. Prior to coronavirus, more than 12 million children younger than age five were in some form of child care in the United States. How can the parents of these children get back to work without child care?
Also before coronavirus, the inaccessibility – paired with the unaffordability – of child care cost the economy about $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue. Imagine the heightened economic impact given the current closures – many of which may be permanent – in a post-COVID world.
In order for Congress to sufficiently act, how many more op-eds and letters to the editor need to be published? How many more news stories need to run? How many more polls need to be conducted?
It is overwhelmingly clear. The child care industry needs help. The strength of America’s economy and the future promise of America’s children hang in the balance.
Mark K. Shriver is the president of Save the Children Action Network. Lynette M. Fraga, Ph.D., is the executive director of Child Care Aware of America.
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