In my career in business, I’ve learned that our economy’s success is intimately tied to the strength of our child care system. With 78 percent of parents of infants and toddlers in the workforce, high-quality and affordable child care programs are imperative. Working parents need these programs to go to work. They need to know that, while they’re financially supporting their families, their children are safe and getting the tools they need to succeed in the short and long term. That peace of mind allows working parents to be present and productive at work which, in turn, makes businesses more likely to be successful.
At Contec Inc, we’ve seen first-hand just how incredibly important the first few years of life can be. Through our work in the community, we’ve learned that the 0 to 3 age range is so important in terms of brain development and brain growth. That’s why quality child care programs are essential to begin the education process. The skills children learn in child care programs can set them up to excel in school, and, as jobs get more and more complex and technologically advanced, businesses will need highly educated and well-rounded employees to succeed. We need to prepare our children for the workforce of tomorrow, and high-quality child care for infants and toddlers can help forge the first steps on that path toward success.
Unfortunately, the already-strained child care sector has faced extraordinary challenges amid one of the hardest years of our lives. Child care providers have had to navigate operating while experiencing significant financial hits thanks to the loss of business and ever-changing safety protocols. Throughout the pandemic, many child care providers lost their jobs, and child care centers closed because of these challenges. At the same time, many parents had to transition to working remotely from home. Parents’ child care needs changed, having to rely on home-based child care and other options to give their kids what they need during the workday. Working parents and child care providers have struggled during the pandemic, all while carrying the burden of keeping our economy afloat.
This unprecedented strain comes at a complicated time for the child care sector. A 2019 ReadyNation report found that the infant-and-toddler child care crisis costs our national economy $57 billion per year in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. Many working parents—especially those in lower-income households and communities—have long felt that child care is inaccessible and too expensive. They also explained feeling that a lack of child care has affected their productivity and presence at work. The pandemic has only exacerbated this massive financial hit on our economy and the challenges for working parents in South Carolina and around the country.
As lawmakers consider how to initiate post-pandemic repair, they must prioritize the child care sector. Making meaningful investments in the sector that support short- and long-term change will strengthen our economy for years to come.
Congress has taken the first steps to significantly help child care providers and working families. In March, as part of the American Rescue Plan, allocated $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program and $24 billion for a child care stabilization fund. It’s a great first step, but now we need to think about effective implementation.
If used effectively and with innovation, those much-needed funds can significantly support child care programs’ efforts to repair and expand. The latter is key because it’s imperative that more working families in South Carolina and around the country have access to high-quality and affordable child care programs. Going forward, I join business leaders across this country, calling on Congress to work together in bipartisanship to provide consistent and sustainable child care resources to ensure the repair and expansion continues to meet the needs of our children and our hard-working families.
As more and more Americans get vaccinated, life is returning to some kind of normal. But even when we do return, some things won’t be the same. Our lives have changed forever, and, in many ways, that’s a good thing. Those changes have illuminated how we can improve our social systems, especially child care for infants and toddlers. If we take this opportunity to truly improve the sector, we can put our youngest learners on the pathway to become conscious, thoughtful, and proactive adults, which will better the country for generations to come.