Our country is facing unprecedented challenges. The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death have made it abundantly clear that there is much work to be done to strengthen our communities.
Ready access to high-quality child care must be a key part of strategies to address these challenges as we recover from COVID-19 and accelerate our efforts to end racial inequity.
The pandemic has not only wreaked havoc on public health, but also on the economy, including our small businesses. As the country begins to reopen, businesses and their employees need more support than ever. And to ensure that the working population can safely return, we must protect and strengthen the child care sector.
A fragile child care sector was already in crisis prior to the pandemic. A 2019 ReadyNation report highlighted that the infant-and-toddler child care crisis costs the U.S. economy $57 billion every year in lost productivity, revenue, and earnings. It also showed that 86% of caregivers reported child care issues causing a detriment to their work performance. This data represents just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the far-reaching impacts of the child care crisis.
Child care is not only vital to businesses and working parents, but, of course, to children as well. Reliable, high-quality child care, including home-based care, provides a safe and supportive environment for children to develop. When kids are supported early in life, they are better prepared for future success. As the country engages in discussions around racial equity and systemic issues, we can look to high-quality child care as one way to help narrow the educational achievement gap that so often affects Black children, other children of color, and children from families with low incomes.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided specific relief to child care providers as a major segment of the small business community. This funding was and remains vital to essential workers and their children, and I am grateful to lawmakers for prioritizing funding for child care. However, if we are to preserve and stabilize the child care sector, more must be done.
Additional federal funding will be critical due to added costs associated with reopening during a pandemic. In order to comply with health and safety recommendations, providers will need to implement enrollment caps and purchase more cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. These are just two examples of additional costs associated with reopening child care facilities. Providers will not be able to withstand the added financial burden, coupled with reduced revenue, and still provide their services to families across the country. Congress must act quickly to support our working parents, children, and economy by ensuring that the child care industry endures and, ultimately, gets stronger.
Our country sits on the precipice of major change, and we cannot forget the needs of our nation’s youngest citizens at this pivotal moment.
Douglas M. Baker, Jr. is the Chairman & CEO of Ecolab Inc. He is also a member of the ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood and resides in Edina, MN.