In a new paper, EPI Senior Economist Elise Gould, Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) researcher Lea Austin, and CSCCE Director Marcy Whitebook examine the barriers to affordable high-quality early child care and education and provide a framework with which to assess proposed child care policy solutions.
When state and national policy makers introduce child care reforms, the authors recommend that child care policy be assessed against the following criteria:
- Does the policy allow parents to stay home with their infants or newly adopted children?
- Does the policy relieve the cost burden for low- and middle-income families?
- Does the policy improve quality by investing in the early care and education workforce?
“These criteria should be used to analyze any proposal that comes up,” said Gould. “I eagerly await the release of the president’s child care proposal so we can see how well it will meet the needs of American families. We should be wary of solutions that primarily benefit high-income families and don’t increase quality of the care.”
Rising inequality, coupled with the increasing costs of early care and education, only allows a very small share of American families to be able to afford high-quality child care. On average, child care costs between $4,000 and $22,600 a year, depending on where the family lives and the age of the child.
At the same time, many early education and child care workers have low pay—much lower than workers in other occupations—which can fuel economic insecurity among the workforce. In order to attract and retain the best workers and increase the quality of care and education, improved compensation is imperative; this will require public investment that does not further burden families already struggling to afford the cost of care. Any serious child care proposal should address both of these concerns, while also allowing new parents to stay at home with their children.
“After analyzing various plans by these criteria, the strongest we’ve seen is the early care and education program for military parents, subsidized by the Department of Defense,” said Austin. “Not only does the program provide a sliding scale to make the service affordable to everyone, but it also has a well-articulated career ladder for early educators and provides affordable trainings for workers to meet higher job goals.”