DOWN TO BUSINESS: It’s time to rethink how we prioritize child care; the cost is too high

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“Child care” and “infrastructure” are words not often used together.

The latter conjures up images of burly public projects: highways and bridges, dams and tunnels — foundational elements that keep the economy humming.

Child care, on the other hand, is seen as more niche and personal: an arrangement of benefit only to parent and child.

That view needs a reset, though.

“It’s past time that we treat child care as what it is — an element whose contribution to economic growth is as essential as infrastructure or energy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said 18 months ago as her department released a report highlighting an “unworkable” system that needed government help through the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Act — an ambitious program doomed by its hefty price tag. In the follow-on Inflation Reduction Act, aid to child care and related issues were also left out.

Last week, a business executives’ group put the annual cost to the country in lost productivity, earnings and revenue at $122 billion due to insufficient but costly care for children under the age of three that distracts parents at work and takes big bites out of their paychecks and their employers’ bottom lines.

The cost has more than doubled from a 2018 study, says the group, ReadyNation, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and failure to enact initiatives to make child care more available and affordable (see above for reference).

The annual cost of center-based infant care in New York is $15,000, according to Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable child care — more than the cost of a year’s in-state tuition at a public college. Add in a 4-year-old, and the total bill jumps to $27,000 — more than the average annual payments on a home mortgage.

The costs are similar in the Capital Region, according to Brightside Up, a resource and referral agency in Menands that operated for decades as the Capital District Child Care Coordinating Council.

What’s more, the region has significant child care “deserts” where the supply of licensed child care is limited or nonexistent, Brightside Up noted in a January 2020 report.

Citing data from the Center for American Progress, the document listed census tracts in eight local counties that had no programs or high demand for limited slots. As you’d expect, many rural areas had no registered providers, and demand in urban areas was as high as 50 children per available slot.

A related March 2020 report offered recommendations on how employers could help, such as by developing on-site or near-site child care businesses, or by arranging for back-up care when snow days or child illness prompts parent absences.

“By addressing the barriers to high-quality, regulated child care, whole communities will move beyond merely surviving to become active and thriving environments that will support families and businesses for generations into the future,” the report concluded. 

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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