Tag Archives: child care

3 Big Myths About Child Care on Equal Pay Day

Last week, the internet Greek chorus turned its attention to a previously wonky topic: DC’s educational requirements for child care workers. A Washington Post article highlighted that DC is first in the nation to require higher education for child care workers, and a plethora of commenters took to Twitter to criticize the policy. Various individuals commented on the “stupidness” of this new policy. For example, Senator Ben Sasse tweeted: “This is insanely stupid.” Economist Alan Cole tweeted: “What’s the endgame for someone who can’t make it through college? Are they going to be allowed to do things anymore?” The article transformed into a Rorschach test revealing Americans’ antiquated view of child care.

Baby Bottle Robot 

The reality is that many Americans still view child care through a prism of babysitting. They desire the cheapest option: a safe baby with a caregiver of minimum capability, like someone who can easily read aloud to their child. As a result, many parents overrate the quality of their child’s day care. But the reality is child care is complex and skilled work that remains deeply undervalued. And today as throughout history, it’s work mostly performed by women.

Today, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pause and consider three persistent myths about child care, which ultimately hold women back from achieving equal pay with men:

MYTH #1: Child care is menial work which can be done by anyone.

Many critics of the new credential requirements in Washington, DC implied that child care is necessarily low-wage work because it requires minimal skill. Commenters were unified in asserting that high-quality care-taking did not require specific competencies and in undervaluing the actual work of nurturing and addressing the demanding needs of small children. These viewpoints belie the reality that adults who educate young children require knowledge and competencies as specialized as those of an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher. A successful early childhood teacher needs to understand child development; language development; and how to foster early literacy, early numeracy, and positive socio-emotional development, among other skills. Continue reading

Let’s Take a Closer Look at “Child Care Deserts”

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) looks at “Child Care Deserts,” which CAP defines as communities with no licensed child care centers, or where the number of children under age five dramatically exceeds licensed child care center capacity. Looking acrossChildCareDeserts the eight states for which CAP was able to acquire data, the analysis finds that nearly half of children in these states live in child care deserts. Quality child care settings are even more scarce.

The analysis also illustrates significant geographic variation in how child care is distributed. Rural children are particularly likely to live in child care deserts: nearly 55 percent of rural children live in such communities, as opposed to about one-third of both urban and suburban kids. The percentage of children living in child care deserts varies across states: from less than one-third in Maryland, to roughly two-thirds of all children under five in Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois. Communities with high or low rates of poverty tend to have more childcare access, while those in the middle are more likely to be child care deserts. This suggests that public subsidies and publicly funded programs have been successful in improving access to childcare in communities with more poor families. Urban and higher-poverty communities also tended to have higher quality child care options.

It’s an interesting and important analysis, and CAP deserves credit for casting light on issues of child care supply, in addition to cost, and bringing an empirical light to these conversations. A few caveats are worth noting, however:

  • Demand for child care is a complicated thing. CAP’s analysis uses the number of children in a community under age 5 as a proxy for demand for child care, but it’s an imperfect proxy. Research from the census bureau indicates that more than half of families with children under age 5 do not pay for child care, including some families in which the mother works full time. In some communities, there may limited demand for child care because many families prefer to stay home with their children, use informal and family care arrangements, or because there are few attractive work opportunities for parents. Obviously, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here: Child care supply may be low in some communities because demand is also limited, but it’s also possible that more parents would work and demand childcare if more options were available. To really solve this problem at a local level, much better analysis on demand is required.
  • Growing capacity requires targeted investments in supply. CAP highlights their proposal for a High-Quality Child Care Tax Credit as a strategy to increase supply of quality child care, by providing parents with more resources to pay for care. But building the supply of quality care in communities with few existing options will likely require more direct supply-side strategies to incentivize new providers to open or existing quality operators to expand to these communities (as I wrote about in the first chapter of our recent release), and to help cover start-up costs. The investments that I’ve proposed to build the supply of quality schools could also help to grow the supply of quality child care in underserved communities.
  • Child care “swamps” are also a problem. CAP’s analysis focuses on communities with a lack of child care supply. This is clearly an issue in some rural communities. And if you live in a high-cost urban area like Washington, D.C., where families often face long wait lists for child care slots, it can be easy to think child care shortages are a national problem. But oversupply of child care in some communities is equally problematic. Many states’ regulatory policies create few barriers to entry into the market. This can lead to more seats than children who need them, resulting in under-enrollment that makes it hard for providers to be economically viable or to have the resources they need to invest in quality. This is exacerbated when operators open child care centers without fully assessing market need or developing strong business models. Improving access to quality child care in these communities may actually require increasing barriers to entry, reducing the number of child care slots, and developing concerted strategies to direct or match families with higher quality options.

Recap of Education Topics Covered in the First Presidential Debate

via Wikimedia

The education community watched the first presidential debate last night with hopes for any, small conversation of related issues. K-12 education was likely never going to make the cut. But many thought college affordability, preschool access, and school choice might. These issues didn’t get the spotlight on their own, however education policies were mentioned in passing as part of other overarching issues, including the economy, taxes, and race relations.

Specifically, here are a few times education was mentioned: Continue reading

How Universal Pre-k Broke Subsidized Child Care in D.C.

cribsChild-care costs for infants and toddlers (ages 0-2) in DC are among the highest in the nation — over $23,000 for center-based care for infants. For families for whom that would be almost half their annual income, subsidized child care is increasingly hard to get, and pre-k might be partly to blame. I am a huge fan of D.C.’s investments in high-quality pre-k for three and four year olds, but market impacts of booming pre-k enrollment have made it tougher for child-care providers to accept infants and toddlers at subsidized rates, even in neighborhoods with few high-income families.

Here’s what happened, from a cost-modeling study from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE):*

  • Caring for infants and toddlers is more expensive than caring for three- and four-year-olds. More staff are needed, and more regulations have to be followed in order to meet licensing requirements and qualify as a subsidized child care provider.
  • Child-care subsidies are higher for infants and toddlers, but they’re not nearly enough to cover the full cost of operating a high-quality program. So providers need additional sources of revenue to break even.
  • Serving more three- and four-year-olds is one way to narrow the cost gap while continuing to serve infants and toddlers at subsidized rates. Even with mixed ages, it is still much easier to break even by serving families paying market rates.

What the cost-modeling study doesn’t explicitly say is that school-based pre-k makes the mixed-ages strategy less viable. With 76% of three- and four-year-olds in school-based pre-k, the market for child care in those age groups is now very small. In neighborhoods with higher-income families, child-care providers can stop accepting subsidies, charge (insanely high) market rates, and still have long wait lists. At the same time, in neighborhoods where no one can pay $23,000 for child care, meeting high-quality standards for infants and toddlers with subsidies alone is nearly impossible. As a result, providers are more likely to cut quality in order to cut costs, shut down, or operate illegally. According to information currently available, 88 licensed child-care providers in the whole city accept subsidies and offer full-time infant and toddler care, and only about a third of those earned a “gold” quality rating. If a family needs things like flexible drop-off times or services for disabilities, the options are even scarcer.

Pre-k access and child-care costs are both getting more attention on a local and national scale. But, few media stories point out how intertwined pre-k and child care are in the early care and education market, and how changes to one will impact the other. As more cities look to expand pre-k, access to child care for younger children shouldn’t accidentally take a hit when pre-k thrives, and infant and toddler subsidies should match the cost of high-quality care.

*Disclosure: I am a former OSSE employee, but had no involvement in this study or child-care and pre-k policies while I was there.

Correction: The cost of an infant in a child care center in D.C. is approximately $23,000. The $40,000 number originally stated is the estimated cost for an infant and a four year old combined. Source.