Axne: Lack of affordable child care keeping moms out of work
CINDY AXNE / U.S. House of Representatives
Apr 4, 2021
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Cindy Axne is the U.S. Representative from Iowa's Third Congressional District.
As a working mom raising two teenage boys, I know firsthand how nerve-racking it can be to budget for the rising cost of child care. And I know what a lack of affordable care means for the average family: if you can’t find or can’t afford child care, you can’t go to work.
This harsh reality, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is reflected in the state’s labor force participation rates. At the start of this year, the number of working-age Iowans in the labor force was the lowest it had been since 1977, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This has hit Iowa’s working women particularly hard. For the first time ever, an equal number of women and men hold four-year degrees in the U.S., but the most recent data shows job loss rates for working women outpace that of men. In September 2020, 80 percent of all unemployed workers in the United States were women.
Those numbers were a direct result of mothers staying home to help their children.
Iowa’s child care centers have been disappearing for years now – and even as we move out of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding child care will still be nearly impossible for the quarter of Iowans who live in child care deserts. During the five-year period between 2014 and 2019, the state saw a 37 percent drop in the number child care programs listed under the state’s Child Care Resource and Referral Center.
And those who can even manage to find care pay 18 percent more for infant care than they would for in-state tuition at a four-year public college, and 12 percent more than an average family’s rent.
That’s why I firmly believe improving access to safe, affordable child care will make a difference in keeping Iowa on a pathway to full recovery as we begin to rebuild and strengthen our economy.
Recently, Sen. Joni Ernst and I introduced the Improving Child Care for Working Families Act to expand Iowa families’ ability to pay for child care expenses.
The legislation would more than double the amount of money families can place in dependent care assistance plans, which will allow families to better keep up with the rising cost of child care.
I’m also optimistic about recent efforts I’ve seen here in the Third District to open new child care centers.
For example, I just toured the new child development center in Red Oak, which opened in August 2020 after a successful $1 million capital campaign in the community.
The non-profit organization provides quality, affordable child care, 3-year-old preschool, before- and after-school care, and school-aged summer programs for families in and near Red Oak.
More than 70 available spots at the Red Oak Child Development Center filled immediately upon opening, and it is now regarded as a major success story in terms of bringing child care to an area in desperate need of safe and affordable options.
Creating more facilities like the one in Red Oak will not only give parents peace of mind, it would create more jobs, make it easier for communities to attract more new businesses, give more women the freedom to work without having to struggle to find child care and stimulate local economies.
Because of the wide-reaching implications child care has on communities, I’ve always considered child care infrastructure. I’m happy to see child care is considered a vital infrastructure investment in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which preliminarily calls for $25 billion to upgrade child care facilities in areas that need it most.
I look forward to working with the White House, my colleagues in Congress, and Iowans in every community across the Third Congressional District to ensure any money allocated to child care facilities ends up in communities that truly do need it the most so it can have a direct and positive impact on families right here in Iowa.