I’m the child of a single mother, the husband of a public school teacher and the father of a young child. On top of this, I’m the Iowa state manager for Save the Children Action Network, or SCAN — a strong political voice for kids. Each and every day I get to lead the advocacy efforts of dozens of amazing grassroots volunteers throughout Iowa, urging policymakers to prioritize children.
So, it’s safe to say that I am incredibly familiar, personally and professionally, with the importance of prioritizing kids. And, now, as we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation has been dramatically confronted with the issues I have dedicated my life to, particularly the importance of early education and care.
This pandemic has shed light on the importance of teachers and child care providers, deeming them essential workers, a title they have deserved forever. And, currently, with much of the national debate transitioning to how best reopen the American economy, child care has been getting — finally — the attention it so desperately needs.
Throughout the country, 6.7 million children — 3 out of 5 children under 5 — are in a regular care arrangement with a nonrelative provider. The parents of these 6.7 million children will need child care in order to return to work. But, because of the pandemic, their providers may have closed. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 50% of child care providers cannot survive a closure of more than two weeks without significant public investment. This means the potential loss of 4.5 million child care slots across the country.
Locally, here in Iowa, child care is a crucial issue, too. In the past five years, even before the pandemic, Iowa lost 42% of its child care workforce. Even if we are able to fill and open every child care center and in-home provider in our state, nearly a quarter of Iowans would still live in a child care desert. Let that sink in.
The global pandemic has also exacerbated the child care struggles facing lower-income communities, and has disproportionately impacted minority families. All children have the right to equitable learning opportunities to help them achieve their full potential. Cycles of racial and social stratification can begin to be broken when all children have equal access to early childhood education. Prioritizing advancing equity has never been more essential to our future.
SCAN, together with Child Care Aware of America, commissioned a national poll to gauge voter opinion on child care and the coronavirus. Notably, 87% of voters support direct federal assistance for child care providers during the COVID-19 crisis so child care providers can meet payroll and pay rent and utilities. This overwhelming support crosses party lines, ideological persuasions, generations and economic classes. In fact, 82% of Republicans were in support and 94% of Democrats were in support.
This voter sentiment is incredible. Voters clearly understand the importance of the child care industry. Lawmakers in Iowa do, too. Iowa Congresswomen Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, as well as U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, have supported significant increases in emergency investments in child care after meeting with Iowa SCAN advocates and partners. These commitments from policymakers on both sides of the aisle are a great start, but we need more. We need all lawmakers to not only commit, but also act on behalf of children and the essential child care industry.
Therefore, join me in pushing our policymakers to act and prioritize children the way they say they will. We must not give up on asking for what is needed to rescue the child care industry so that families can get back to work when the pandemic ends. Not only will a strong child care industry help rebuild our economy, but it will also contribute to the social, emotional and intellectual well-being of our children, our future. After all, 90% of a child’s brain is fully developed by the age of 5.