The child care crisis in US affects all aspects of society


A recent study shows the US ranking as one of the lowest in workers’ benefits, and being on one of the few developed countries that do not provide any parental leave for new parents. With many child care facilities also closing their doors permanently in 2020, the already poor child care system in the US is falling apart. Photo credit:

Mirella Vargas

Many of the country’s social issues have been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, one of them being America’s sub-par child care system. Thousands of childcare centers that were ordered to close temporarily because of lockdowns, are at risk of shutting permanently.

In the state of California alone, more than 1,200 of the closings are permanent, eliminating about 19,000 child-care spots.

America’s child care infrastructure has been failing and falling behind compared to other developed countries — and this has serious implications on parents, society and the economy in the long run.

The US should look to other countries and realize that child care is not just a woman’s responsibility but of society as a whole. When children and parents are set up for success, the entire country benefits and in not doing so, the country can suffer serious repercussions.

The National Academy of Sciences study estimated in 2019 that child poverty reduces the country’s long-term economic potential by between 4% to 5%, or roughly $800 billion to $1 trillion per year by reducing lifetime earnings and increased illness and crime.

On top of this, the US ranks as one of the worst for employee benefits amongst developed countries. The US is one of the few industrialized countries that does not require employers to give employees paid parental leave — with most of the child care costs falling heavily on the parents with little to no aid from the government.

The Coronavirus relief bill, which passed in March of last year, included $3.5 billion to the Child Care Development Block Grant to help states provide vital temporary aid to providers and support the cost of providing child care for children of essential workers.

President Joe Biden has recently introduced a similar proposal in the most recent COVID bill that would allocate $15 billion to the same child care grant.

Critics say this is merely a quick fix to return child care to its already below average state.

Both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the child care crisis to some degree, and have even proposed legislation to address the issue.

But instead of solving the issue, the parties end up going back and forth on the actual dollar amount. The federal government must come together and provide a radical, sustained investment in the child care sector, or else the country could suffer a vicious cycle of parents not being able to rejoin the workforce or able to afford altogether.

By overseeing and leading the child care sector, both the federal and local government can collect and use comprehensive data to improve services and provide better information for parents, the way Europe does.

To further support parents in covering costs, Finland’s generous parental leave can be used as a blueprint. It was increased last year and expanded to all family types regardless of gender, to a total of 14 months paid leave and provides free child care until the age of seven.

The Biden administration should start taking the necessary steps to overhaul the child care system in the US now, and continue to make it a priority policy going forward.

A first step could be by appointing a dedicated team to research and create a comprehensive assessment of the current child care infrastructure, identify the gaps and plan out the necessary long-term policies to improve the country’s child care to positively impact society.