RELEASE: Lack of Infant and Toddler Child Care Drives America’s Child Care Deserts Crisis

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report examining the nation’s woefully inadequate supply of child care options for infants and toddlers. The report suggests that analyzing child care supply for all children under 5 years old masks that America’s licensed child care shortage is driven in large part by the lack of options for families of infants and toddlers, or children under the age of 3. The study comes as nearly half the nation’s child care slots are at risk of being permanently wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic and as advocates and economists call on Congress to pass $50 billion in federal relief funding for child care. The authors’ analysis relies on data on infant and toddler care supply collected from 19 states and the District of Columbia, finding:

  • There are more than four children under the age of 3 per licensed child care slot, or enough licensed child care to serve just 23 percent of infants and toddlers.
  • Licensed child care is more than three times as scarce for children ages 0 to 2 than it is for those ages 3 to 5.
  • Using CAP’s working definition for child care deserts—places where there are three or more children for each licensed child care slot—more than 80 percent of the sampled counties would be classified as an infant and toddler child care desert.
  • Infant and toddler child care shortages are not attributable exclusively to a lack of facilities. Caring for children is more expensive when they are younger, and neither families nor existing subsidies can cover the increased cost—forcing many providers to help families cover the costs by spreading out expenses over time with the support of revenue from preschoolers.

The report includes a series of policy recommendations to improve infant-toddler child care supply, including strengthening data collection specific to infant and toddler child care; providing $50 billion in child care stabilization funding to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; reforming subsidy policies to better serve infants and toddlers; implementing a comprehensive national solution such as the Child Care for Working Families Act to improve America’s child care system; passing comprehensive paid family and medical leave policies; and providing additional economic supports for families of young children.

The report is accompanied by a new case study looking at how Georgia has utilized grants and contracts between providers and state child care subsidy systems to increase access to quality, affordable child care—particularly for infants and toddlers—in the most underserved regions.

Please click here to read “Costly and Unavailable: America Lacks Sufficient Child Care Supply for Infants and Toddlers” by Steven Jessen-Howard, Rasheed Malik, and MK Falgout.

Please click here to read “Grants and Contracts: A Strategy for Building the Supply of Subsidized Infant and Toddler Child Care” by Taryn Morrissey and Simon Workman.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at or 202.741.6292.