In February, 2019, Jessica Flook from Portland, Oregon, shared her story with the Oregon House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Services and Housing, which is considering a number of child care bills. Jessica has been working in the child care industry for almost ten years at a high-quality child care center, where she has been the director. Now that she’s also a mother of a 9-month-old, she is looking for employment outside of the child care industry, because the sector doesn’t pay well enough for her partner and her to afford child care—though it does pay just enough for her to be ineligible for the state’s existing child care financial assistance aimed at low-wage workers. As she explained:
“If I could afford to bring my child to a high quality child care center, it would change the path our family life is currently taking. My partner and I could have a moment together to begin building the business we dream of, we could have more time together than simply passing along information about our child’s day before heading out to our respective jobs and passing the duty of care to the other, and most importantly, my son could have the opportunity to learn with and from other people his age in an environment which was built with him in mind.”
Jessica’s story exemplifies many of the challenges in child care that families and early educators face today, and throughout the country. For the purposes of this report, child care refers to any nonparental care, including child care centers, family child care providers, family, friends and neighbors, and nannies, as well as afterschool and summer programs. It also includes pre-K, since publicly funded pre-K provides a safe, nurturing place to go to for children who would otherwise be in need of care, although pre-K alone can cover only a portion of any given family’s child care needs. Child care is a labor-intensive industry that relies on dedicated staff like Jessica, but too frequently pays them substandard wages. At the same time, most parents are already paying as much as they can—and sometimes more than that—to provide good care for their children so that they can work or go to school. In addition, many parents can’t find good care that’s convenient to their home or work. Public solutions are necessary so that parents like Jessica can afford high-quality care options, and so she and her colleagues working in the child care industry can afford to make ends meet, and get ahead. Public investments in high-quality, affordable child care also yield greater economic, gender, and racial equality, improved child development and family well-being, and the creation of good jobs that help the economy thrive.This article was originally published in The Century Foundation.