Child care demand continues to rise, but the workforce hasn’t fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. The early childhood education (ECE) workforce faces higher operating costs, minimal staff and increasing attrition rates. This leaves parents with fewer options for child care – the question becomes less what will be most beneficial for the child, but instead which facility has the shortest waitlist.
Despite pressing needs to address this issue, child care is frequently left out of discussions and legislation that would offer the funds required to assist parents, providers and the economy adequately. Parents will continue to struggle to find a safe and inexpensive facility for their children to be cared for while they are at work without significant, ongoing systemic investments. This is crucial for the disproportionately affected immigrants and families of color by the pandemic.
The financial well-being of families and child care providers, who are crucial for strong and resilient state and national economies, depends on access to high-quality, affordable and accessible early care and education. For a very long time, the lack of support for the child care industry has forced significant trade-offs. Early educators and child care providers have also historically received low pay and little respect. The economy will continue to decline, as retention rates diminish in the early care and education workforce.
Families are grappling with rising costs all around the nation. People are digging deeper to feed their families and overall expenses are rising. However, many families had long-standing concerns about expensive care costs even before the pandemic. Families of color, women and single parents have been disproportionately impacted by systemic inequity. Compared to high-income families who spend less on care when compared to low-income families, families with poor wages frequently have to make difficult decisions due to a lack of resources, such as utilizing lower-quality care or forgoing other costs like food.
It is crucial that caregivers stay in the workforce to stabilize growth in the economy. One of the most important steps in making that happen is for the federal government to invest appropriately in a strong and reasonably priced early childhood education system.
In addition to the significant costs that families must bear, early childhood educators are equally experiencing the financial burden with limited professional advancement opportunities. The early education sector is dealing with historically high turnover rates as a result of rising inflation and lackluster pay, with the average pay being lower than many retail jobs.
The foundation of the nation’s economy and the child care system depends on the early childhood workforce. We will only be able to thoroughly address inflation or economic development with increased federal investments to sustain the child care system, including its employees.
Every moment during development is crucial. The years from birth to 3 lay the foundation for how a child will grow and develop for the years to come, and child care facilities play a huge part in this. Stabilization grants have subtly eased the blow many child care centers face; the pandemic has only amplified the issue. We have to support our youngest champions by providing them with adequate early childhood education programs and by supporting their first teachers, the ECE workforce. Investing in child care is the only way.