Study reveals depth of child care crisis of affordability, access in state

New report shows half a million children without access to licensed childcare

Before the pandemic, over half a million children in Washington did not have access to licensed child care, and nearly one in five parents surveyed turned down a job offer or promotion due to child care issues, according to a detailed Child Care Industry Assessment Report released by the state Department of Commerce this week.

A number of important – and alarming – findings are quantified in a study commissioned by the state’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force, a broad-based coalition chaired by Amy Anderson, Association of Washington Business; Ryan Pricco, Child Care Aware of Washington; and Luc Jasmin, Washington Childcare Centers Association and Parkview Early Learning Centers.

“Child care access and affordability are significant challenges, affecting parents’ job prospects, productivity and career decisions, with the impact even greater for Black and Native American parents,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown in the Aug. 25 news release. “Clearly, a dramatic investment in child care is needed for robust, equitable economic recovery in Washington state.”

“Childcare is unaffordable for most middle and lower-income working families,” said Department of Children, Youth and Families Secretary Ross Hunter. “Benefit ‘cliffs’ make it so that getting a small raise often results in astronomical, and unaffordable, increases in child care costs for a family. Not only does this often leave kids in unstable arrangements, it locks their parents into low-wage, unstable jobs. Fixing this will be expensive, but not re-opening the economy would be even more so. The continued work of the Child Care Collaborative Task Force, Department of Commerce and Department of Children, Youth and Families over the next year will provide a road map and policy solutions to achieve greater access and affordability for more families.”

Commerce acted as co-convener of the task force study with the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

Other key findings in the child care industry assessment include:

• Although 61% of young children live in households where all parents work, our state has sufficient licensed child care capacity for only 41% of young children and 5% of school-age children.

• Before the pandemic, over half a million children in Washington did not have access to licensed child care.

• Lack of accessible, affordable child care affects parents’ job prospects, productivity and career decisions—with different impacts reported across incomes, races/ethnicities, genders and areas of the state.

• Nearly one in five (18.3%) parents surveyed turned down a job offer or promotion due to child care issues, more often among Black and Native American parents.

• Nearly half (47%) of unemployed parents found child care issues a barrier to seeking employment—51% among female job-seekers compared to 41% among male job-seekers.

The assessment includes an important analysis of the current state during the pandemic, and how the industry has changed since the beginning of 2020.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added stress and uncertainty to what the industry assessment revealed was already a fragile child care system,” said task force tri-chair Ryan Pricco.

Historic numbers of people in Washington are out of work, working less or working from home. Parents face new challenges of balancing job responsibilities and caring for children with many child care programs closed, grandparents and other high-risk caregivers off-limits and schools focused on remote learning.

“Many workers with children, especially women, will exit the labor force without safe, affordable child care options. As a result, businesses and employers ready to resume and expand will find fewer workers available,” said task force tri-chair Amy Anderson. “Washington’s economy will not recover without child care.”

Child care is a necessity for thousands of Washington families. In late June of this year, about one in five child care providers temporarily closed according to Child Care Aware of Washington.

“Providers are working hard to stay open despite rapidly changing enrollments and operating requirements,” said task force tri-chair Luc Jasmin. “Without support, many child care businesses will be unable to re-open, and essential workers will find it difficult to continue to report to their places of employment.”

The task force is set to continue the work of developing a child care cost estimation model, along with workforce compensation and subsidy policy recommendations, expected out this December. This work culminates with a comprehensive strategy and implementation plan targeted for June 2021.


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