The current state of child care and what can be done

Posted on by Elisabeth Tobia

Recently, EC3’s CEO, Elisabeth Tobia, went on a virtual media tour to discuss the current state of child care amid the pandemic and the importance of prioritizing child care in order to revitalize the nation’s economy. During interviews with Morning Blend on Fox 47, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Works! Association, Fox 47 Facebook Live, and the Michigan Business Network, she spoke about the tangible benefits of high-quality early learning for children, families, and society at large.

Even before the pandemic, the demand for child care outpaced supply. Nationwide, there were roughly four children to each available spot in licensed child care facilities — placing a great deal of burden on families and employers, alike. But because there is little public funding available for early learning and care, only those who can afford to pay the high cost are able to obtain it. 

Child care is so expensive because it is a highly regulated industry that is labor-intensive; there are strict limits on the number of young children that can be in a single teacher’s care. The cost of labor is compounded by competition–child care providers seek the same skilled workers that school districts want and must attract them with similar wages and benefits. 

Because of these high costs, it’s rare that child care programs can offer services at a market rate while also operating in the black. Most child care providers are small, independent businesses—many operate out of homes and are mostly staffed by women, particularly women of color and other marginalized groups. Child care was deemed an essential service at the outset of the pandemic, but child care workers were not held in the same esteem as first responders or health care workers; there were no special protections or hazard pay. Nearly one in four child care providers nationwide has closed permanently because they couldn’t keep up with the higher standards for cleaning and smaller group sizes for their classrooms. Even after some of the emergency government funding was made available to child care providers, it hasn’t been enough for many of them to keep their businesses open.

Decades of research on brain development have proven that early learning and high-quality child care play a vital role in preventing crime, boosting overall life outcomes, and creating a stronger economy. Many people realize the value in post-secondary education, yet the first five years of a child’s life set the stage for later years in a much more profound way than college does. Child care is both a social and economic imperative, and if more people understood this, early learning would be folded into the public education system so it would be available to everyone.

Employers not only have a responsibility to support their employees’ quest for high-quality child care, but they have a vested, strategic interest in doing so. In 20 years, the young children of today will be the ones handing in resumes. 

In addition, access to child care frees up a tremendous amount of talent, particularly women, who would otherwise be unable to participate in jump-starting the economy. At the beginning of 2021, ten million women with young children were out of the workforce — that’s 1.4 million more than at the beginning of 2020. A vast number of these women simply couldn’t find or afford the care they needed.

These problems can be solved by recognizing that the care economy is just as necessary to this nation’s infrastructure as roads, utilities, and internet access; that child care employees are essential workers; and that child care is not child warehousing — it’s an investment in our future.

EC3 has always been more than a provider of high-quality child care — we’re also passionate advocates for best practices within the care economy. Lis’ recent media tour is one of the many ways she and EC3 stay at the forefront of child care outreach. Now, more than ever, early childhood education can be a catalyst for positive change.

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