Have you heard about the fast-approaching "child care cliff"? When federal pandemic funding concludes at the end of September, it’s estimated more than 3 million children – about a third of those now in child care – will be left without a spot, forcing many parents to drop out of the workforce, increasing the financial burden and pushing more American families into poverty.
Not having child care sets off a series of chain reactions that have lasting consequences for families, including:
- Severe economic strain for parents, particularly mothers. Without reliable child care options, parents, especially single parents, may be forced to turn down job opportunities or reduce their working hours, directly impacting their ability to earn a steady income and provide for their families. Inequalities grow as families struggle to make ends meet.
- Unequal education. Young children who don't receive early education experiences are likely to enter school less prepared, setting them up for potential academic struggles. This can create a gap in educational achievements that is difficult to bridge, contributing to long-term inequality in terms of job prospects and future earnings.
- Perpetuating gender inequality. Women are more likely to reduce their working hours or leave the workforce altogether to care for children. This obviously reduces their immediate income, but it also diminishes their lifelong earning potential and reinforces gender stereotypes that confine women to roles as caregivers and homemakers while men are portrayed as breadwinners and decision-makers.
- Mental health toll on parents. Balancing work, child care, and household responsibilities can lead to burnout and high stress levels, negatively impacting parents' mental well-being and affecting their ability to be fully present at work and in their personal lives. For families without support systems, the lack of respite can lead to isolation and a reduced quality of life, further deepening inequalities in overall well-being.
- Continues the cycle of poverty. The lack of affordable child care disproportionately affects low-income families. With high-quality child care out of reach, their children are unlikely to receive the same early educational support as their wealthier peers. This opportunity gap can exacerbate a cycle of intergenerational poverty, where children from low-income families are less equipped to break free from their circumstances.
The availability of high-quality child care is good for families, good for children, and good for economies, but without continued federal aid, a huge swath of the child care industry is likely to collapse — which will send shockwaves through the economy as families scramble for new options. You can learn more about the economic impacts of our national childcare crisis and the need for comprehensive long-term solutions that help families here.