Over the past month, bipartisan attention has increased on the economy and the workforce and their strong dependence on child care. Across the political spectrum, there is agreement that without child care, the workforce will be unable to return to full employment, hurting businesses and hindering any hopes of a quick economic rebound from the effects of COVID-19.
In a report on COVID-19 and child care, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees, asserting that “child care is a two-generation workforce issue.” In a letter to President Joe Biden, it listed the issue as its third priority, behind only vaccinations and K-12 reopening.
As a result of this wide agreement, policymakers at the federal level have discussed solutions with both parties seeming to agree on the idea of supporting families with children above and beyond the current means available. Specifically, on the table are cash payments to families somewhere in the range of $3,000 to $4,200 annually. This is a wildly savvy policy that the Institute for Child Success has promoted for nearly a decade.
Such support would not only go a long way toward fostering the extremely important developmental needs of young children, but it would also stabilize families and their incomes, increase workforce participation and productivity, support child care facilities (a majority of which are small businesses), and quicken the recovery of the overall economy. It is a multifaceted win that pays dividends at every level, short- and long-term.
Women, whose labor-force participation rate was at 58% at the beginning of the year — nearly triple that of 1920 — have been disproportionately affected by the lack of child care availability and the pandemic. As schools began to return to mostly remote class sessions in the fall, parents who normally do not contend with child care challenges experienced this issue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 1.1 million adults who left the workforce between August and September, more than 80% were women. Further, a recent McKinsey and Oxford Economics model projects that employment for women might not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
As the Chamber of Commerce’s work highlights, parents are making lifetime career decisions based on temporary child care challenges. That is no better for businesses and the economy than it is for children and their families.
Yet, while K-12 schools will eventually return to in-person learning, thereby alleviating child care pressures on families with school-age children, families with children under the age of 5 will face this challenge on an ongoing basis.
A government solution for this economic impediment is long overdue. And not only is it the shrewd economic thing to do, it is what is best for children.
As the Institute for Child Success has demonstrated in the past, child care has a positive impact on children’s development, their educational outcomes and their economic future, in addition to the overall economic benefits. It is a key factor in breaking down racial and economic inequity; child care is positively correlated with kindergarten readiness, which in turn is tied to third grade reading and high school graduation, which is tied to economic stability; and there is upwards of a $4 to $1 return on investment back to the community for every dollar spent in child care. These are a few of the reasons to prioritize supporting families with children.
The time has come for a good-faith discussion on this topic. We urge all South Carolina federally elected officials to engage on this issue and move toward a meaningful and significant solution.
Jamie Moon is president and CEO of the Institute for Child Success in Greenville.