On the Senate floor in early August, just two days before lawmakers voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, four senior Democrats came out to lament what they believed to be the bill’s biggest omission: child care.
“We cannot simply vote on this package and call it a day,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said. “Our child care system isn’t just stretched thin; it is broken.”
Less than two months later, the extent of that brokenness is clearer than ever. Public schools are fully reopened, and most pandemic-era restrictions are relaxed. But working conditions for families with kids who need child care are not back to normal. For both workers and parents, already-grim trends in child care have only gotten worse since the pandemic began: program costs have increased, while waiting lists in several states number in the tens of thousands.
Despite the long wait lists, nearly 90,000 fewer people are working in the child care industry today compared to February 2020. Many child care centers say they are losing workers because it has become impossible to compete with the rising wages and benefits offered by large corporations like Amazon, Target, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.
The pandemic, replete with parents working over Zoom as their kids screamed in the background, fueled greater recognition of the child care crisis — and the need for the government to do something about it. Both women overall and strong Republican-leaning voters say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports investing in child care to make it more accessible and affordable. Child care remains one of the biggest expenses working families shoulder, with average costs exceeding $10,000 per year.