'Childcare deserts' or how Washington's policies are discouraging parenthood
The largest healthcare strike in U.S. history between Kaiser Permanente and unions representing 75,000 workers has surfaced a broader issue: Washington's policies are discouraging parenthood.
In addition to underscoring worker demands, the strike shed light on an economic strain American families are facing while raising their little ones.
With surging inflation, families are spending nearly 40% more on childcare than what is considered affordable, as reported by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“There was a childcare crisis even before the pandemic,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. In September, she and fellow Senate Democrats introduced a bill to mitigate the impact of losing this funding.
“This is an urgent economic priority at every level: Childcare is what allows parents to go to work, businesses to hire workers, and it’s an investment in our kids’ futures," Murray said. “The childcare industry holds up every sector of our economy.”
Funding loss heightens child care crisis
The expiration of $39 billion in federal funding for childcare, provided under the American Rescue Plan Act, exacerbates the crisis.
Over 70,000 childcare programs are at risk of closure, jeopardizing the livelihoods of more than 230,000 workers and depriving over 3 million children of access to childcare.
This funding loss has left workers, particularly those in the rapidly growing leisure and hospitality sector, facing significant financial challenges.
“It isn’t just individual children or parents that will be impacted; it’s the economy as a whole,” said Julie Kashen, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “When more than 3 million children lose care, that means all of those parents are going to have to figure out something else or reduce their work hours or leave their jobs altogether.”
That's a stark contrast to other developed economies like Germany, where municipalities are mandated to provide childcare.
Childcare deserts and neglected gig workers
While the economy currently offers a favorable job market with over 9 million job openings, parents in need of childcare face a harsh reality: The majority of jobs available fail to provide income exceeding childcare expenses, particularly in areas known as “childcare deserts.”
These regions—which, shockingly, are home to 51% of all U.S. residents—have more than three times as many children as available licensed childcare slots.
One of the most notable childcare deserts is Oklahoma, with 68% of its population having limited access to childcare, leading to a severe worker shortage.
Another segment of the labor market that policymakers have largely neglected is gig workers. While freelance jobs provide greater flexibility, they lack federal support structures for workers, including childcare options.
It's nearly impossible to be productive while looking after a toddler who cannot attend daycare. Even with in-home childcare or the assistance of another parent, working from home with children present remains a significant challenge.
“You are much more accessible to inevitably get pulled into more childcare, often with no warning, such as during a Zoom call,” said Nicholas Bloom, the WFH Research co-founder and a father of four.
Lawmakers aim to address this crisis through the Child Care Stabilization Act, which seeks to extend vital funding support.
However, this bill has garnered support from 111 House members and 37 senators, all of whom are Democrats or caucus with Democrats. Given the current Republican majority in the House, the bill's prospects for passing this year appear slim.