Education Opinion

Child Care and Jobs

By Sara Mead — September 09, 2011 2 min read
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Lots of other people are writing about the education-related components of President Obama’s job speech last night, so I’m not going to say any more about that.

But I do wonder why no one ever seems to think it’s important to include child care assistance in jobs proposals. Yeah, I know, this sounds like the typical “why didn’t you include my pet program?” whining. And I’m not holding my breath expecting $55 billion in school construction and teacher jobs money to appear either.

But: Childcare is a job issue. Parents who lose their childcare subsidies because of state funding cuts are more likely to also lose their jobs. In some states, parents who lose their jobs also lose their childcare subsidies, which can disrupt their children’s preschool education and also makes it much harder for parents to find jobs. Lack of access to reliable child care can also make it harder for parents to find jobs--particularly when the available jobs are on non-standard shifts when it’s harder to find care. And belt-tightening by both states and families is putting the financial strain on child care providers, which already operate on razor-thin margins anyway, putting some of them at risk of going out of business, which means both lost jobs for their workers and a reduced supply of child care that then exacerbates the child care challenge for parents trying to get back into the job market. Not to mention that, if we want people to go back to work in an environment where many have to accept reduced salaries/wages to do so, childcare support is one way to help make up the difference and create work incentives.

But for all we hear about cuts in school budgets (which Rick Hess notes are often not as draconian as they’re purported to be--although some schools/districts are hurting the last few years), we hear a lot less about what budget cuts are doing to child care, even though it’s important for kids’ learning, there are significant cuts being made, and, unlike school budget cuts, childcare cuts translate into real reductions in numbers of children served at all. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the weird dichotomy in how we think about which groups of children we have a public obligation to, or the political strength of teachers unions and school districts and relative weakness of childcare providers and families, of that childcare is seen as a women’s issue and jobs as a men’s issue, or all of those things or what. I also don’t know how it makes sense for the Obama administration to dedicate the lion’s share of this year’s Race to the Top funds to improving childcare quality but not even symbolically try to include any funding for childcare in a jobs proposal when lack of funding is a big threat to what they’re trying to accomplish on early childhood RTT, or why the early childhood community seems happy with the former given the lack of the latter. (To the administration’s credit, they did secure $2 billion in child care funds over 2 years in ARRA, and sustained about 1/3 of that annual funding increase in this year’s appropriations--not an easy feat, but it still meant kids lost services). I do know that if we want to help more people work, we should at least think a little about helping them figure out what to do with their kids so they can.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.