As Election Nears, Millennial and Gen Z Voters Want Action on Child Care

A young child wearing a mask sits on his father's shoulder in Central Park, New York, on May 24, 2020.

Millions of Americans are headed to the polls between now and November 3 to cast votes for national, state, and local candidates. Young voters—those ages 18 to 34—will have a potentially important role in determining the outcome of the election. Their participation rate and voting choices will influence which political party controls everything from the White House to state legislatures. As younger voters continue to assess whether to participate and whom to vote for this fall, those seeking elected office should try to better understand the pressing economic challenges facing these families and offer concrete solutions to improve their lives.

Recent polling conducted by the Center for American Progress and GBAO Strategies shows that young voters have been significantly affected by child care issues during the pandemic, which in turn has affected their wages and job security. As a result, young voters strongly support public funding to save child care in the next coronavirus relief package, with young African American voters expressing the highest rates of support.

Young voters have been harmed by the economic fallout of the pandemic

While Millennials and Gen Zers are often portrayed as carefree and childless, the reality is that these two generations make up the bulk of American parents with young children. Yet Millennial parents are experiencing the second major economic downturn of their young adult lives, many having graduated from college around the 2008 stock market crash. The coronavirus has hit young voters particularly hard: One-third of 18- to 34-year-old voters say that their personal economic situation has gotten worse in the past year, compared with 22 percent of those older than 64.

Younger voters are also more likely than older voters to have experienced a range of hardships during the pandemic, especially those related to child care. Congress has provided only minimal help to young families facing economic struggles during the pandemic. And while other industries such as airlines have received government bailouts, child care providers have yet to see meaningful relief funds—and many have closed their doors permanently. Indeed, half of younger voters say that finding affordable, quality child care is difficult in their area, and one-third say that it has been personally difficult to find child care during the pandemic. Costs have risen too, with 46 percent of young voters paying more for child care during the pandemic.

Child care is closely linked to parents’ ability to work, so it’s not surprising that young voters have also felt the impact on their jobs and income. More than 4 in 10—42 percent—of 18- to 34-year-olds have faced a negative career impact, personally or in their household, due to child care issues. Young African American voters are most likely to experience a negative career impact, with nearly half reporting that either they or someone in their household has had such an experience. In addition, 4 in 10 young voters reported that child care or schooling issues resulted in them being unable to return to work or having to reduce their hours. Again, young African American voters report a higher likelihood than young white voters of being personally affected by income or job loss and falling behind on rent or mortgage payments. When compared with their white counterparts, young Hispanic voters are also more likely report having to stop work or reduce hours due to child care issues and problems adapting to online schooling.

Table 1

Young voters express strong support for public solutions to address child care

Likely as a result of their struggles, younger voters express strong support for public investment and reform to address problems in the current child care system. In the near term, young voters overwhelmingly want Congress to provide relief for the child care industry. Specifically, 72 percent want Congress to provide funds to child care providers who are facing financial ruin during the pandemic. And more than 3 in 4 young voters generally support increased congressional funding for child care—the highest level of support for any age group.

Young voters strongly support policies to address the shortage of affordable, quality child care and see child care as part of critical infrastructure. Eight in 10 younger Americans back every policy proposal to improve access to quality, affordable child care.

While young voters across race and ethnicity show strong overall support for child care expansion, young African American voters are the most likely to strongly support these policies. Notably, African American support also remains strong among older voters, whereas life cycle effects are present among white and Hispanic voters such that younger voters express much stronger support for child care investment than do their older counterparts. Among Millennial and Gen Z voters, this support translates to voting preferences. Six in 10 young voters say that they are more likely to support a candidate for office who supports increased funding for child care.

Furthermore, there is substantial support among young voters to go beyond the current proposals for child care expansion and create a universal, free child care system akin to that of K-12 schools. Eighty percent of young voters support this approach, including 85 percent of young African American voters—who express the strongest overall support for such as system.

Conclusion

The coronavirus has dealt a significant blow to young voters, threatening their financial security and the future they envision for their families. Access to affordable child care is often a determining factor in parents’ ability to work, especially for mothers; and it’s particularly important for African American mothers, who are more likely than women of other races to be the breadwinners of their household. In 2020, nearly 1 in 10 eligible voters are Gen Zers and 27 percent are Millennials. Candidates for public office at all levels of government must therefore center the issues facing young voters, including child care, that contribute to their economic well-being as well as racial and gender equity.

Katie Hamm is the vice president of Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. John Halpin is a senior fellow and co-director of the Politics and Elections program at the Center.

*Authors’ note: All public opinion findings are from a poll conducted by GBAO Strategies and the Center for American Progress from September 8 through September 13. Additional information on the methodology and polling results can be found in the CAP report, “What Do Voters Want on Child Care Ahead of the 2020 Elections? Results from a National Survey of Registered Voters.”