Child care providers perform one of the most important jobs. They work to educate the next generation, and they enable parents to work so they can provide for their own families. They support all other industries and our greater economy with the labor they provide. They deserve a living wage but very rarely see it. That is a stain on our local, state and federal governments; one we must work hard to blot out.
The crisis in early childhood education highlights a larger problem with how our economic system views child care – not as a public need but as a private responsibility. That means that families must pay thousands and thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to get care for their children, and many of those families can’t afford that cost. But early childhood education is a collective benefit and therefore should be a collective responsibility.
That is why the organization I lead, the Alabama Institute for Social Justice, joined a coalition of child care providers, parents and families around the country for a Day Without Child Care. Through a partnership with Childcare Changemakers, we held a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the value of child care and the critical role it plays in our economy and the lives of children and families. During our town hall meeting, we heard from child care providers, advocates, and community leaders, including Alabama State Senator Robert Stewart, about how we can build a modern child care system that works for everyone. That is a priority for us all.
As the urgency of the childcare crisis grows with providers grossly underpaid, parents unable to find or afford daycare slots, and women forced out of the workforce, the second annual Day Without Child Care was a moment to elevate this issue. More than 600 providers and parents pledged to close their doors for the day in 50 events across 18 states and Washington, D.C. The purpose is not to adversely impact families but to highlight the plight of families and providers.
One Alabama parent, Miriah Craft, explained the crisis this way: “I am a parent who pays out of pocket for child care, and the rising cost is causing families like mine to work less. Since we are working less, we are saving less and contributing to the local economy less.” Another parent, April Perry, said, “Far too many families cannot afford child care without subsidies. It is important that my child receives quality childcare and child care subsidies allow me to better myself by working fulltime and furthering my education.” A third parent, Arlisha Dees, shared that “quality and affordable childcare is essential for families because it allows us to afford child care, work and attend school.”
Like so many in our state and across the country, life comes to a screeching halt without childcare. Many parents simply cannot move forward in life if they do not have funding to put their children in early childhood education programs. But what’s less understood is that many companies cannot run their businesses without reliable help. That help is made possible through early childhood education subsidies.
Community members with and without children must appreciate that the overall economy would literally collapse – as we experienced during the pandemic – when child care is unavailable. A lack of affordable and accessible child care impacts businesses, which rely on families who are often essential workers – providers who want to care for children, parents who cannot work or study without child care, and others. Without early childhood educators, businesses cannot function and families are at a standstill. All of us have had the experience of going to an establishment and having a long wait due to the business being short-staffed or understaffed, and there is a direct connection between employment and access to affordable early childhood education programs.
From the affordability of child care to the lack of livable wages for child care providers to how child care is a grossly underfunded industry, all of these things are intertwined and disrupt our collective lives. We need equity within our child care system. We need living wages for our child care providers. And we need affordable child care for all of our families. We cannot go, not even one day, without child care, because its absence creates a ripple effect on all of us.
Lenice C. Emanual, MLA, is the executive director of the Alabama Institute for Social Justice and a member of the Raising Childcare Fund.
Op-Ed: For Early Childhood Education, We’re At Mission Critical
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