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Let’s Invest in Children, Families, and Child Care Workers

On Monday, President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met at the White House. At the suggestion of Canadian officials, they hosted a roundtable and announced the creation of Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders to address the importance of keeping women in the workforce, access to capital for female entrepreneurs, and child care.

During the roundtable, Trump stated, “In order to create economic growth and lots of very good well-paying jobs, we must ensure that our economy is a place where women can work and thrive.” To accomplish this goal and make it possible for women to work, child care is a necessity—and not just for women at the top of the corporate ladder, but for women at all income levels and in all types of jobs.

Many mothers currently do not have access to the child care they need to work because they can’t afford it or can’t find any good child care options in their communities.  Parents want high-quality child care that gives their children the opportunity to learn and develop skills that help them succeed in school and in life—but it can be out of reach due to cost or simply unavailable. Parents in low-wage jobs working nights and weekends or unpredictable hours have particular difficulty finding child care that meets their needs.  The newly created council should focus on addressing these challenges.

The council should also examine strategies for supporting the women who are doing the critically important work of providing child care (and the vast majority of child care providers are indeed women). They should be well-compensated and have opportunities for training and advancement. But child care providers currently make an average of just $10.72 per hour, or about $22,300 a year. With such low wages, many of these child care providers have to turn to public assistance to support themselves and their own families.

To ensure that women can afford child care and have high-quality options for their children and that the women who care for their children are decently paid, we need greater federal and state investments in child care and improved child care policies.

As the first step, Congress should significantly increase funding for the existing Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the major federal child care assistance program, so that all eligible families who need help affording care are able to receive it.  Currently, only one in six children who qualifies for federal child care assistance receives it.  Funding should also be sufficiently expanded to support higher payment rates for child care programs, which would make it possible to raise providers’ salaries.  As of February 2016, only one state set its payment rates at federally recommended levels.  These low rates deprive child care programs of the resources needed to attract and retain well-qualified staff and purchase books, toys, and other materials that support children’s development and learning.

Second, Congress should expand and improve the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC).  The CDCTC should be made refundable to allow families with incomes too low to owe federal taxes to take advantage of the credit.  In addition, the credit’s sliding scale should be increased so that it provides more assistance to middle-class families.  The expense limits for the CDCTC should be raised as well to cover a greater proportion of families’ child care costs.

These steps could change the lives of millions of working women and their children, and benefit the businesses that employ them or that they lead, as well as the economy as a whole.  The Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders should promote these strategies to help women afford the high-quality child care they need to succeed at work—whether as entrepreneurs growing their own business or as entry-level employees contributing productively to their company—while ensuring their children a strong start.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.