The Child Care Crisis Causes Job Disruptions for More Than 2 Million Parents Each Year

Teachers and infants sing songs at a child care center in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, October 2019.

At a time when more than two-thirds of young children have all available parents in the workforce, child care is a necessity for most families across the country. Yet new data show that the current child care system lets down parents at nearly every turn. High-quality licensed care can be hard to find, especially for rural and Latinx communities and for families of children with disabilities. Beyond the scarcity of child care is the expense: On average, families of children under age 5 spend $250 per week on child care. Together, these two facts force millions of parents into choosing from an unappealing list of options: spend more than they can afford on child care, settle for cheaper but potentially lower-quality care, or either leave the workforce or scale back their work hours to provide child care themselves.

New data from the National Survey of Children’s Health further sheds light on the prevalence of parents’ child care-related job disruptions. Center for American Progress analysis of these data reveals that in each year from 2016 to 2018, more than 2 million parents of children age 5 and younger—9 percent, or nearly 1 in 10 parents—had to quit a job, not take a job, or greatly change their job because of child care problems. This figure varies across states, from slightly less than 5 percent in Kansas to 14 percent in Oregon.* Other states with high rates of child care-related job disruptions include Nevada, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Florida.

Parents who leave the workforce to become full-time caregivers forgo more than just their salaries; they also earn less in benefits and retirement savings over the long run. Unsurprisingly, it is mothers’ employment that suffers most when families are unable to find a child care program that suits their needs. The child care crisis not only affects families’ bottom lines; it also costs the economy $57 billion in annual lost revenue, wages, and productivity.

Given the impact of child care troubles on both individual families and the economy as whole, even states such as Kansas have unacceptably high rates of child care-related job disruptions. As the conversation around child care continues, policymakers must pay attention to how this lack of affordable child care affects parents’ ability to work.

The table below shows the percentage of parents of young children in each state who experienced a job disruption during the past year because of child care problems.

Table 1

Cristina Novoa is a senior policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. Steven Jessen-Howard is a research assistant for Early Childhood Policy at the Center.

*Authors’ note: This analysis is unable to provide additional information as to why the prevalence of child care-related job disruptions varies across states. Future analyses should address this question, taking into account parental labor force participation rates as well as state investments in child care and supportive family policies.