As policymakers navigate a way forward on infrastructure and growing our economy, there is an ongoing debate about what investments are essential. Ultimately, the infrastructure investments being discussed on a bipartisan basis all have something in common: They are critical to our collective safety and ensuring all of our nation’s workforce can thrive.
With this common thread in mind, it’s abundantly clear that few investments are more vital to our nation’s workforce than safe child care facilities. As the former deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development in the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, I’ve witnessed the need for this investment firsthand. A 2015 HHS inspector general report that resulted from unannounced inspections of child care facilities serving our nation’s most vulnerable children was shocking to say the least.
For the past three years, as the director of the Early Childhood Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, I’ve led a nonpartisan working group that developed a child care facilities policy framework. Our initiative also conducted a series of national surveys and roundtables with working parents. Based on our combined findings, I’ve outlined the top five reasons child care facilities are a perfect fit for bipartisan infrastructure investments.
1. Parents can’t work without child care facilities and there aren’t enough
Our initiative found that across 25 states, 31 percent of families lack access to child care, and these numbers are consistently worse in rural areas. An investment in helping communities renovate, expand and build new child care facilities of all types would help states increase their supply of child care and reestablish the workforce our country has lost as a consequence of the pandemic.
2. Rebuilding our infrastructure is codependent on having more child care facilities
If we are dedicated to seeing the proposed surface infrastructure investments come to fruition, then our nation will be calling upon an even larger workforce to facilitate its construction. With nearly 60 percent of all children under 5 reliant on nonparental care arrangements, more child care facilities will be essential to support the workforce required to repair our nation’s roads, bridges and buildings.
3. The early childhood educator workforce will benefit from more child care facilities
Fifteen percent of child care workers are still without a job. This is two and a half times the national unemployment rate. By building new facilities, we can get our early childhood workforce back on track, and employment options would be extended for thousands more.
4. The safety of our children is at stake
Parents repeatedly tell us that their No. 1 priority when choosing child care is health and safety, but across the country, child care facilities are literally crumbling. The 2015 HHS inspector general report found that 96 percent of child care programs serving federally subsidized children had at least one potentially hazardous condition, including steel pipes poking out of the ground, unsafe electrical outlets and water damage. If we want to ensure parents will feel comfortable leaving their children to return to work, then we must invest in making child care facilities safer.
5. No help is currently available to support facility construction or renovation
Most child care providers are small businesses with limited access to the capital necessary to support expansion or necessary renovations. They are also limited by the number of children they can safely serve per classroom, so this leaves little surplus to reinvest in things such as buildings. Additionally, there is no dedicated federal funding available to support major renovations or new building of child care facilities, and these businesses are left with little to no options.
Without an immediate federal investment in child care facilities, the vision of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure will be stalled. Federal funding dedicated to renovating and expanding the infrastructure of child care must be a priority. Our children, economy and working families depend on it.
Linda K. Smith is the director of the Early Learning Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center.