By SENS. ALANA DIMARIO and SANDRA CANO As we continue to struggle our way out of a pandemic and decide how to best invest money to provide for our future, we should focus our attention squarely on child care. It's no secret that many families face
As we continue to struggle our way out of a pandemic and decide how to best invest money to provide for our future, we should focus our attention squarely on child care.
It’s no secret that many families face tremendous difficulties in finding care for their young ones – and even greater difficulties in paying for it. In most places, access to quality child care has been on the decline, with families who can find an open spot paying more than $9,000 a year on average for children age 4 and younger. And that was even before COVID came along and turned our worlds upside down.
As we try to get our economy back on a non-pandemic footing, it is imperative that we understand that quality child care is key to a thriving and robust economy. Not only do parents need safe, affordable, high-quality child care to keep our economy functioning, but businesses lose money when they can’t find staff or when their employees don’t show up to work.
Businesses benefit when they have a steady workforce. And employers are all too aware of the need for reliable child care in order to keep that workforce in place. When child care arrangements fall apart – whether a child is sick, a snow day or distance learning day is called or a parent is worried about the quality of care their child is receiving – workplace productivity is going to suffer.
Steady and reliable child care also enables parents to work or attend job training or educational programs, so the lack of that care serves as a barrier to workforce training, which will continue to have a negative impact on achieving needed staffing levels to meet needs in healthcare, early childhood education, mental and behavioral health.
Many parents are working from home, struggling to work while caring for their children. Other families are particularly underserved, such as those with parents who work nontraditional hours; live in rural communities; have a child with special needs; or are immigrants. Lower-income families in need of financial assistance face even greater obstacles.
In order to restart the economy, we must come together with resources for these crucial workers, so they can care for our children. Only then, can our economy get back on track.
The early childhood education workforce is severely underpaid for their expertise. The average early educator earns $12.12 per hour – one of the lowest paid jobs in the U.S., even though many educators have college degrees. And the impact these educators have on our youngest citizens is one that will follow them throughout their lives.
The child care crisis has been extremely expensive. Across the nation in 2018, working parents lost $37 billion in income because of reduced productivity on the job and more time spent looking for work. Businesses lost $13 billion due to lower revenues stemming from reduced productivity and increased costs for recruitment. The economy lost $7 billion in income taxes as a result of the reduced earnings of working parents. And that’s all before COVID-19 came along and made everything so much worse.
It’s time for Rhode Island’s leaders to step up and address this problem as a priority. We urge the use of any available childcare dollars and any other funding necessary to stabilize the childcare system and adequately address the needs of both working families and early childhood educators as an essential step to Rhode Island's recovery and future growth. The state is also fortunate in the fact that leadership in both the state Senate and House of Representatives as well as the Governor have been very receptive to the call for urgency on childcare.
To that end we need to take a close look at increasing the family income limit for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program, help programs compete for staff, stop the exodus of qualified child care workers, and maintain access to quality child care.
We have the resources. It’s time to take the action. Let’s invest in our children and create a cycle of stability and success that will benefit Rhode Islanders for all time.
Sen. Alana DiMario is a Democrat representing District 36 (Narragansett, North Kingstown). Sen. Sandra Cano is a Democrat representing District 8 (Pawtucket).
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