For a full recovery, the US must address its child care crisis

On Tuesday — in the face of converging crises of war, the ongoing global pandemic and an uneven economic recovery — President Biden acknowledged that this is a tough time for all Americans.

But here’s the truth: Families with children under five are struggling more than everybody else.

From housing to diapers, families with young children face Sisyphean challenges. Across the country, 1 in 3 U.S. families with young children struggles with the cost of diapers, which hits low-wage families the hardest. Child Care Aware’s newly released Demanding Change report found the national average annual cost of child care is more than 10 percent of the median income for a married couple and more than 35 percent of the median income for a single parent.

Speaking to the extraordinary situation families find themselves in, President Biden brought preschool to the fore. He committed to getting parents back to work, cutting the cost of child care in half for most and implementing universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old.

The message we in the Head Start community heard, loud and clear, was: The challenges and opportunities laid out in President Biden’s first State of the Union Address depend, in large measure, upon the state of early childhood education and care.

Biden cited an affordability benchmark from the Department of Health and Human Services in his State of the Union address: “Middle-class and working families shouldn’t have to pay more than 7 percent of their income for the care of young children.” According to HHS, 7 percent is what is considered affordable.

The most recent Cost of Care Survey found 62 percent of families reporting more concern about the cost of child care now than in the last year. Demanding Change found the national average annual cost of child care in 2020 far exceeded this benchmark at $10,174. This figure is more than the average annual cost of in-state college tuition — $9,580 per

What Head Start knows all too well is the lack of affordable, comprehensive early childhood care and learning has a disproportionate impact on Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American and migrant children. Achievement gaps in many of these communities remain persistently high. And it is these families who are struggling most with poverty, food insecurity, unstable housing and the devastating impacts of COVID-related loss and trauma.

Head Start is not alone in the belief that everyone benefits if we can solve this problem.

Legislation pending in Congress makes critical investments in our nation’s youngest children that build on the successes of Head Start and Early Head Start. The National Head Start Association fully supports this approach. When our nationwide approach to supporting children is aligned to meet the urgent needs of families, communities and businesses, everyone makes gains.

The Head Start model is the most studied and proven in the U.S., with evidence of both short- and long-term positive impacts. According to research from Brookings analyzing the program since its inception “Head Start had striking impacts on the long-run educational and economic success of its students.” Whatever future early learning legislation comes down the road, it needs to ensure preschool and child care programs nationwide can meet high demand with high quality.

President Biden has ushered in one of the strongest labor market recoveries in American history. Alongside job growth, we are witnessing system-wide churn in the early childhood education sector as dedicated employees choose other paths with living wages. Per January’s job report, the child care sector remains 12 percent below its pre-pandemic staffing levels. This is a loss of well over 100,000 jobs. The only sector doing as badly is nursing homes.

The median Pre-K teacher earns $15.35 per hour. For child care workers, it’s $12.24 per hour, ranking as one of the very lowest-paid professions. This means women, the large majority of Head Start staff, are living in near-poverty conditions. And constant turnover puts many programs on the verge of closing down while decreasing the impact of high-quality early learning experiences for young children.

Author: Yasmina S.VinciPublication: The Hill