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34% of Families With Young Kids Are in Childcare Hell Right Now

Parents across the board are struggling to find child care, and when they do, it's usually prohibitively expensive.

A new poll has shed light on just how much the United States is failing at helping parents find, and afford quality childcare. And it’s not just a handful of people who are suffering: about a third, or 34 percent, of families with young children are facing “serious problems” finding childcare when parents have to work.

That’s according to a recent national poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It also found that 44 percent of households (and 63 percent of black households and 59 percent of Latino households) with kids under 18 have faced “serious financial problems” in the past few months.

The existing shortage of childcare facilities and providers was exacerbated by the onset and duration of the pandemic, causing those “serious problems” for 34 percent of parents nationwide. Things are so bad that having to choose between working (and giving all or most of paychecks to childcare providers) or becoming a stay-at-home parent without an income, is a choice that parents who don’t have any decently affordable childcare options in their area would love to be able to afford.

This situation is the result of a serious lack of investment in child care in the United States. The country spends less public money on early childhood education and care per child than all but seven of the 38 OECD countries. Meanwhile, parents struggle to make ends meet, hold down meaningful and good-paying jobs, and are often held back in their careers because there’s no regular care for their children. And those who are supposed to care for our children are paid pennies, exacerbating the problem. All of this, in turn, crushes the economy. The fact is that, for a long time, U.S. policymakers have spent minimally on making quality, affordable childcare accessible to all American parents.

The Biden administration is trying to change that. The American Rescue Plan, the COVID relief bill the president signed in March, provided $39 billion in funding for the childcare industry split between stabilization funding (reopening costs, rent, upgrading facilities) and development funding (dramatically increasing childcare subsidies and increasing the wages of childcare workers).

And that’s just the start. The Build Back Better Act would create new sliding-scale limits on what families could pay for childcare based on the median income in their state (SMI).

Families making less than 75 percent of the SMI would have their childcare costs entirely subsidized, making childcare free, with a progressive sliding scale for higher incomes up to 7 percent, a figure that is significantly lower than the nearly 10 percent of their income parents currently spend on childcare on average.

The fate of the Build Back Better Act is unfortunately quite up in the air, as conservative Democrats publicly voice their opposition to the bill as written despite the strong support for the measure from the vast majority of the Democratic caucus and, it’s important to note, the American people as a whole.