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Photo Credit Smeeta Mahanti

Photo Credit Smeeta Mahanti

On April 6, 2016 the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, DC, released a new report, “It’s time for an ambitious national investment in America’s children.”

This report reviews the evidence on why a major investment in America’s children is a promising economic strategy that can provide substantial social benefits—and that would more than pay for itself over time. It highlights four types of benefits we would see from real investments in childcare (benefits stemming from direct investments in childhood development, benefits stemming from increased in-kind resources to families with children, benefits stemming from parents’ increased labor force participation, and benefits stemming from professionalization of the child care workforce) and recommends three key areas to focus public investment:

  1. Providing resources necessary to ensure all families can access high-quality child care with well-trained, professional staff qualified to provide early childhood education. High-quality programs will aim to nurture children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development and allow all children to enter their formal schooling years at comparable levels of preparedness.
  2. Providing resources to ensure the professionalization of early childhood caregivers and teachers. This means providing enough resources to attract and retain well-credentialed staff and to close earnings gaps between early childhood workers and other workers with similar skills and credentials (including K–12 teachers).
  3. Expanding public funding for home visits by trained nurses to help expectant parents make healthy choices both before and after childbirth.

Our Executive Director, Andrea Paluso, confirms the need for greater public investment in childcare,

For too many Oregon women and families, the exorbitant and continually rising cost of childcare is pushing parents — mostly mothers — out of the workforce and into poverty. This phenomenon is happening far less in countries where childcare is intentionally well-funded through public investment to ensure that parents can access affordable, quality care that makes it possible for them to stay in the workforce.. It’s past time for the United States to catch up! We’re already rolling our sleeves up here in Oregon to find the best ways to fix this clear market failure where parents can’t afford care and providers can barely get by while providing it.

Portland parent Kate Sanderson Holly has two children under five and runs her own small business, Yoga Refuge PDX in SE Portland’s Montavilla neighborhood:

If I don’t have childcare, I can’t work. It’s that simple. And the cost to have my infant and toddler in care while I work is shocking and I am constantly evaluating whether it’s worth it for me to keep working. I know other countries have better systems for this situation and I am excited to see the national conversation about this problem gaining momentum.

In addition to spelling out the benefits of affordable, quality childcare for families, communities, kids, and our economy, the report authors call for significant public investment that would make childcare affordable for families while also allowing childcare workers to make living wages. The current low wages in the childcare industry do not lead to affordable care for most families, either. What we have on our hands is a market failure, where there isn’t enough childcare, it’s too costly, providers earn too little to get by, and the impacts are hurting parents (especially mothers), kids, communities, and our economy.

Economist Elise Gould, one of the report authors, summarizes the problem and solution well:

Child care is extraordinarily expensive and yet child care workers are among the lowest paid workers in the country. An ambitious public investment in early childhood care and education will not only make caring for young children more affordable for families, it will raise wages for workers.

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