Child care is CT’s largest economic opportunity. Here’s how to capitalize on it


When Connecticut voters went to the polls last month, they cast ballots focused on solving some of our state’s most pressing fiscal challenges: Shoring up our ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic; fighting inflation and concerns about a looming recession; and building infrastructure that empowers Connecticut to compete for generations to come. One issue presents a tantalizing opportunity to achieve all of these goals, if voters demand action and our elected leaders listen. Smart investments in child care hold the key to unlocking the power of Connecticut’s economy.

Child care is an early investment in a young person’s life and a long-term investment in the economy of our state. When families can afford child care, they have more spending power to pour back into the economy — by supporting local businesses, paying back loans or improving their homes.

Families need this support because our recovery from the pandemic remains slow and bumpy, even after two and a half years. Most offices and schools have reopened, but child care and early learning centers are still feeling the pain from closures. Parents face daunting wait lists due to the shortage of teachers.

Child care providers like the one I lead already operated on thin margins even before the pandemic. These days, we’re shuttering classrooms and capping enrollment numbers because teachers are forced to leave for higher-paying jobs and permanent funding remains scarce. That crunch for spaces and educators disrupted parents’ careers and cost them valuable income.

Early in the pandemic, an overwhelming majority of jobs lost were held by mothers, particularly women of color. When schools and child care centers closed, even more women were forced to leave their jobs to perform unpaid, undervalued and extraordinary care responsibilities at home.

In a recent survey, the
U.S. Census Bureau
said more than 365,000 adults reported losing a job because they needed to take time to care for children under the age of 5. More than 1.3 million said an adult in the household left a job to care for children.

Although government assistance programs such as the American Rescue Plan propped up child care centers against the worst-case scenario of industry-wide collapse, those funds were only temporary. They will run out unless the government intervenes for the long term. We are looking for lasting change, not another Band-Aid solution.

In a recent poll commissioned by the
Child Care for Connecticut’s Future coalition
, 81 percent of business leaders said their companies had faced challenges due to a lack of affordable early care. The most frequent problems that business leaders cited included employees having to leave early, arrive late or miss work days due a lack of care. Nearly half of business leaders reported that their employees had a hard time paying for early care and education.

Fifty-seven percent of Connecticut voters — a bipartisan majority of Democrats and Republicans — supported capping early care and education expenses at 7 percent of household income. Because the cost of educating children is so high, parents can’t pay any more and providers can’t afford to make any less. This leaves the educators bearing the burden through poverty-level wages. We need the government’s help to fill the gap.

A substantial public investment is needed to stabilize the existing early care and education sector and ensure that we have a 21st-century early childhood system to support families, children and our economy well into the future.

This investment starts with increasing subsidies to match what it actually costs to educate children, since current subsidies come nowhere close to meeting the true cost of care. Stronger subsidies will relieve families of the skyrocketing burden of child care costs, giving them more money to spend on household essentials and other goods. Parents can return to work and once again contribute money back into the economy.

Second, offering tax incentives for businesses that build child care infrastructure into new facilities will solve many of the challenges corporate leaders cited in maintaining their workforces. Parents won’t have to hunt so hard for easily accessible care when it’s convenient to their workplace.

Third, using state bond funds to build child care infrastructure across the state could allow child care centers to be exempt from paying rent or a mortgage so that excess funds can be reinvested in salaries. Higher salaries equal more teachers, and more teachers equal more spots for families to fill, which equals more tax revenue for the state.

We must redefine the issues that brought voters to the ballot box, so all voters understand how they’ll benefit. Want a better economy? Invest in child care. Want better tax incentives? Invest in child care. Care about infrastructure? Invest in child care. Care about social good? Invest in child care.

We’ve ignored these opportunities for too long. It’s time to make smart investments in child care that will secure a better future for all.

Allyx Schiavone is the executive director of Friends Center for Children in New Haven
, and the co-chair of the Child Care for Connecticut’s Future coalition.

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