Our nation’s child care system is complex and historically rooted in inequities. Child care providers find themselves the subject of system-level inequities that have perpetuated for over 100 years.
The approximately 1.5 million child care providers in the United States continue to face steep challenges. In fact, 16,000 child care providers closed their doors permanently in 2020. Already on unstable ground, the jarring impact of the pandemic was the final blow these providers could take. The sting of losing so many child care providers is exacerbated by the majority-minority-like profile of the child care workforce. The child care workforce that has disproportionately shouldered the burden is 94% women; 40% people of color; and 21% foreign-born (calculated from IPUMS USA data). And despite the invaluable service they provide, 36.7% of them live below 200% of the federal poverty line.
In this pinnacle moment in time, we find ourselves with a child care system still on the brink of collapse. Re-envisioning a future system that is equitable requires us to look introspectively at the public financing origins and historical underfunding of our child care system.
Child Care Aware® of America, in partnership with researchers from Boston University and NORC at the University of Chicago, recently published a thought piece on this important topic. Financing an Anti-Racist Child Care System examines one crucial dimension of U.S. child care policies—financing–with a racial equity lens. This resource also is available in Spanish.
Financial supports alone will not fix the crumbled U.S. child care system. Financing, however, does enable intelligent, evidence-driven policy insights and action that can right the system. Envision that one day we can peer across the nation and proudly witness an equitable system in which all early educators are backed and equipped with a comprehensive set of resources, tools and training, and are valued to provide high -quality services that are accessible to all families. And that they have access to a salary and benefits that fairly and equitably compensates them for the critically important role they play in partnering with families to raise children during their most formative years of development.
Significant investment in child care is needed to ensure a palpable system in the future and we must be careful to not repeat financing missteps of the past. Notably, future investments must dramatically alter the face of the child care system and build toward anti-racist historical underpinnings.