16,000 closed child care programs push industry to collapse

According to a new report published this month by Child Care Aware of America.

Although perhaps less severe than some of the worst case scenarios announced in early 2020, the loss of thousands of providers reflects an ever-worsening crisis in early care and education, accelerated by the arrival of COVID-19, but not at its root.

These closures are sure to have major effects on everyone affected by the child care industry, says Mario Cardona, chief policy and practice officer at America’s Conscious Child Carea national membership association that works to improve childcare and the early years profession and who conducted the survey that formed the basis of the new report.

The decline in the number of child care providers – of which 8,900 offered daycare services and 7,000 offered home child care programs – represents several thousand jobs lost along the way. Some of these early childhood educators sought and found other positions in the field, Cardona notes, but others may have decided to look elsewhere, determining that the challenges and stressors in the field had become difficult to justify.

“The work is intense. The work is intense. Health problems persist,” says Cardona, explaining the reasons why an early childhood educator might leave for a job, for example, in retail or the service sector, where workers’ compensation increased during the pandemic. He also notes that health and risk calculations for early childhood educators and providers remain quite different from those for the rest of the public. Children from birth to 4 years old are still not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and mask wearing generally does not begin until after the age of 2.

Abbie Lieberman, senior policy analyst with the early and elementary education policy team at New America, a Washington, DC-based think tank, highlighted how the closures also affect children and families.

“Families across the country are living the realities of these closures,” Lieberman said by email. “Child care programs that they may have relied on for years, that they know and trust, have gone out of business and they are scrambling to find a new program that meets their needs.” The situation is more serious and disruptive in communities where child care spaces were already limited; It is estimated that more than half of the American population lives in childcare deserts.

“For young children, continuity of care is important,” Lieberman added. “Disruptions in care can make transitions difficult as children adjust to new providers and situations.”

More than just availability constraints, the cost of child care has also increased significantly, outpacing the rate of consumer goods inflation. In 2020, the national average price for child care was $10,174 for the year, a 5% increase from 2019.

National average child care prices versus annual inflation rates
Source: Child Care Aware of America

the rising child care costs can, in part, be attributed to the pandemic, Cardona explained. It was neither free nor cheap for child care providers to implement mitigation measures over the past two years. Cleaning products, protective equipment and other safety efforts have come at a price. And sometimes programs needed to bolster staff or reduce enrollment to achieve more acceptable teacher-child ratios during the worst outbreaks. Other times, declining enrollment was a natural by-product of the pandemic, and providers, who were already operating on tight margins, were forced to make up for losses and additional costs one way or another. other.

Although the average cost of child care has increased dramatically, it was unaffordable for many families long before the pandemic. The report’s findings follow a trend from crushing costs a few years ago to crushing costs today.

Child Care Aware examined the burden of child care costs regionally across the United States as well as state by state. In California, a married couple with a baby can expect to spend almost 17% of their household income on child care. In Rhode Island, it would cost nearly 12% of a married couple’s household income to place their baby in family day care.

Across four U.S. regions — the Midwest, Northeast, South and West — the report found that the average cost of center-based child care for an infant exceeds the average cost of housing in three of them. they. The only exception is in the West, where housing costs (average monthly rent or mortgage payments) slightly exceed childcare costs. In all four regions, annual child care costs exceed the cost of one year of in-state education at a public four-year college.

Household expenditure by region
Source: Child Care Aware of America

That means middle-class families must solve an almost impossible financial situation on their own, Cardona says.

“Families pay so much for care that it has an impact on family planning; it affects whether and when they can buy a house,” he explains. “If you remove that barrier for families, it opens up so many options that they don’t currently have.”

The report highlights a number of grim realities in the child care industry, but none of them are new. The pandemic has dramatically worsened the situation and pushed these issues into public discourse.

“Families can no longer afford to pay more, and child care providers can’t afford to charge less,” Lieberman writes. “Suppliers are already struggling to stay afloat and labor is underpaid. Providing a safe and quality environment costs money. The most viable way to ease the burden on parents and ensure providers stay in business is to invest public funds in child care.

Lieberman and Cardona both expressed hope that the early childhood provisions of the federal law Building back better bill, which includes efforts to reduce the cost of childcare for families and to improve the childcare profession, could yet become a reality.

The bill, which has stalled in Congress, would limit child care fees to 7% of income for middle-class families (compared to the 10-20% many families currently pay) and guarantee access to free, universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the United States, among other forms of fieldwork assistance.

“It would make a radical difference,” Cardona insists. “It would change the way we support young families. It would address issues related to supply, educator compensation and affordability for families. …and it would represent a shift in the way this country values ​​early care and education.

State and local efforts exist and can make a difference. New York is currently consider universal child care at the state level. In Washington, DC, local officials approved a plan to make one-time payments of between $10,000 and $14,000 to child care workers as part of a larger effort to raise their salaries.

Yet unless there is a federal fix, experts say, providers will likely continue to shut down their programs. Families will continue to be burdened by the outsized costs of paying for care. Child care workers will continue to need public assistance to get by, if they don’t leave the field completely.

“Our country should have fixed this market failure a long time ago,” Lieberman said.

His colleague Laura Bornfreund, director of the New America Early and Elementary Education Policy Team, put it more bluntly.

“There has never been a child care system in the United States,” she said by email. “There have been funding streams to help some families meet their child care needs. But even what was in place before was insufficient. And now, both because of our country’s past failure to build a real system that works for all families, years of disinvestment in what was in place, and the current state of guard because of the pandemic, there is a crisis. He is on the verge of collapse. »

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