Miller: Texas needs affordable, quality child care to help economy

Miller: Texas needs affordable, quality child care to help economy

For those who know professionals in the child care industry, it’s clear that the choice to care for other people’s children is not made lightly. My stepmother used to run a child care center in Amarillo, and her dedication to the kids in her care was inspirational. 

Unfortunately, for many child care providers like her, their industry was in crisis even before the pandemic, and we are starting to see the short- and long-term repercussions of how it worsened in the last two years. 

Over the course of the pandemic, one-quarter of child care providers in Texas closed at least temporarily. Providers remaining open typically operated at reduced capacity or for fewer hours, reducing the supply of care. This led to Texas seeing a drop of at least 16 percent of its child care workforce compared to pre-pandemic levels. These changes have led to a decrease in access to affordable, quality child care — a decrease that harms working parents. 

Prior to the pandemic, nearly half of Texas families lived in a child care desert, where there are at least three children for every licensed child care slot. These rates have not improved since. Even when care is available, it is often unaffordable: the average annual cost of center-based child care for infants in Texas is over $10,000, or about one-sixth of the median household income in our state. Quality can also be a problem, as high rates of provider turnover, linked to low rates of compensation, can negatively impact the continuity of care children need, particularly for infants and toddlers. 

According to a recent research report by ReadyNation, these factors have led to working mothers in particular bearing the brunt of this child care crisis. During the pandemic, the labor force participation rate of mothers of young children in Texas dropped 10 percentage points, versus three percentage points for fathers. In the first quarter of 2021, female workforce participation nationwide was at its lowest rate in more than 30 years, and it is not expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels until late 2024. This decline is especially startling when compared to the rate of male workforce participation, which is projected to fully recover by the middle of next year. 

With 40 percent of our workforce struggling to rebound after the pandemic, it’s no surprise that this crisis also negatively impacts our state’s economy. A 2019 ReadyNation study examining the nation’s child care crisis for infants and toddlers shows a staggering annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue nationally, with Texas alone losing an estimated $4.9 billion per year—and that was before the pandemic. 

What this cost shows us is a simple truth; our economy hinges on making child care more accessible and affordable for families and working mothers with young children. 

In order to fix the child care crisis, policymakers should increase incentives for employers to expand the child care supports they can offer to employees. More than three-quarters of employers surveyed have expressed that incentives like tax credits and direct funding would allow them to expand the supports they currently offer. 

However, businesses alone cannot solve the child care crisis. Policymakers must also expand public subsidies to families with low incomes, provide direct assistance to child care providers, and assist home-based providers in delivering consistent, quality care to strengthen the foundation of the child care system. Texas needs significant public investments like these to increase the supply of quality child care, enable our labor force to thrive, and allow our economy to flourish.

Lisa Miller is a Principal Financial Advisor and a member of ReadyNation.

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