Over the last 25 years of my career, which has focused on supporting a thriving economy and strong communities in Massachusetts, I have seen firsthand the benefits that reliable child care provides both to children and families and to businesses and their employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened an already struggling child care sector: to preserve and grow the U.S. economy after the pandemic, we must address the child care crisis.
Early education and child care are vital to the American workforce, both in terms of supporting working parents and preparing children for success. Child care allows parents to work, be more productive while on the job, and reach higher levels of professional achievement. Nurturing learning environments prepare young children for kindergarten and future achievement in school and, eventually, in the workplace.
The economic impact of the child care crisis is far-reaching and can be devastating to families and businesses. The ReadyNation report “Want to Grow the Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis” found that 86 percent of primary caregivers have seen negative impacts at work due to infant-and-toddler child care shortfalls. The report also showed that the infant-and-toddler child care crisis costs the US economy $57 billion every year in lost revenue, productivity, and earnings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only weakened an already fragile child care sector. With businesses and many child care providers shuttered across the nation, workers have been left with fewer and less accessible choices for high-quality child care. It is estimated that 60 percent of all child care programs closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also further destabilized the child care industry itself; post-crisis, child care businesses are expected to remain at risk of financial insolvency due to unpredictable revenue and increased costs associated with maintaining safe environments. The impact of destabilization has had – and will continue to have – a disproportionate impact on women, particularly women of color: 96 percent of child care providers are women; 40 percent are women of color. Moreover, many child care businesses – some of which have been forced to close permanently – are women-owned.
The child care and early education sector, which makes up a substantial part of the small business economy, will continue to falter without timely federal relief. Child care providers now require additional resources to best serve their communities and keep staff, parents, and children healthy: enrollment caps to facilitate social distancing recommendations and the purchase of cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment represent just two examples of increased costs to child care providers that will require supplementary funding.
While I was heartened to see Congress respond to this need and include specific child care relief in the CARES Act, more must be done. I am heartened that my Congresswoman, US Rep. Katherine Clark is working to forge solutions. Bi-partisan action in both the House and Senate is needed to sustain and stabilize the child care sector.
Stay-at-home restrictions are beginning to ease, and more and more employees are slowly returning to work. Prioritizing child care for essential personnel and for the general workforce will be crucial in the coming weeks and months. We must use this time to reimagine the child care sector and elevate it as an essential component of the infrastructure necessary for our economy to thrive. Congress must designate additional relief funding to providers nationwide. American families, businesses, child care providers, and the economy depend on it.
JD Chesloff is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. He is also a ReadyNation Advisory Board member and resides in Boston, MA.