Child Care is Economic Security for NYC Families


January 9, 2024

By: Julie Kronick

There is a lot to be said about the benefits of child care. The impact that early childhood education has on child well-being is measurable, documented in many places that it leads to stronger outcomes in child development for social interactions and language use and supports pre-academic skills. And, on top of this, children generally get to interact more with their peers in child care, which many feel is a bonus for play time and happiness. It is also evident that child care options support workforce connection for parents, allowing both parents in two parent households to work as well as supporting single working parent households. For these reasons and more, it is crucial that local and state governments support the child care workforce and ensure adequate child care options exist across communities.

What may be less clear when considering the importance of accessible child care is the actual impact access and cost has on families and how that contributes to child poverty. Pre-pandemic studies were already connecting the rising costs of child care with financial stability for families across the U.S., like in this report from the Carsey School of Public Policy in 2017, “Child Care Expenses Push Many Families Into Poverty”, where researchers found that roughly “one third of [low income] families who pay for child care for their young children are pushed into poverty by their child care expenses”. Understanding data around affordability and equity helped NYC develop subsidized childcare programs including the current Pre-K for All program and the 3-K for All program. But roll backs in 3-K for All as well as current funding cuts from the Mayor’s budget modification are putting families at risk of losing affordable child care options. We can create momentum to fight these cuts together—click here to use your voice.

As our own data show, more than 80% of families overall cannot afford child care. New York City has some of the most expensive child care in the country, and among all families with young children citywide, only 11% of families can afford center-based child care for one infant or toddler, and only 14% can afford child care for one preschool age child in center-based child care settings. Families paying out of pocket for child care, coupled with NYC’s high housing costs, are spending virtually all of their income on these two expenses alone. This fact is leaving most households scrambling to make ends meet on all other expenses, worsened by factors such as income inequality, housing stability, and more.

Previous Census data showed us that women living with children are 2 ½ times more likely to cite child care as the reason for being out of work. Therefore, subsidizing child care options supports gender equity in employment and significantly promotes an increase in lifetime earnings for women earners. Even still, child care access can impact employment overall, regardless of gender. In the 2023 Early Childhood Poverty Tracker report, “Child Care Affordability, Accessibility, and the Costs of Disruption”, 1 in 10 parents experienced turnover as a result of disruptions to child care and nearly one third of working parents reported a child care disruption that hindered workforce advancement, demonstrating further the importance that reliable, affordable child care plays in workforce attachment and income security. The city’s own data shows that two-thirds of  parents/caregivers who have downshifted careers or left the workforce for caregiving responsibilities since COVID-19 are women. These are just some income impacting factors that can alter a family’s financial stability, potentially contributing to child poverty. For additional context, check out this report from New York State’s Department of Labor: Child Care in New York State 2023. In this report are two graphs that explain how low child care availability reduces the labor force participation of mothers and how the high cost of child care keeps mothers out of the work force.

The point of reliability is also connected to poverty reduction from the child care worker standpoint, too. Most workers in the child care industry in New York State earn less than the median wage, not to mention the incredibly disruptive delayed payment crisis that began in 2022 that is still impacting the industry. According to data from Robin Hood, 1 in 4 employed child care workers in NYC live in poverty with 93% of the workforce being women. Child care providers make up an overwhelmingly women-led, low-wage workforce while more than half (53%) have incomes low enough to qualify for a child care subsidy themselves. Low wages can create instability in a system that many depend on, leading to high turnover, job openings with fewer candidates, and instability for workers that can lead to absences. These issues worsen child poverty on both ends—for those relying on child care and those in the industry career wise.

On top of this, child care needs continue for out-of-school time as children age up to 12 years old, and for this reason we need to likewise invest in affordable after-school programming, summer programming, and more. Overall, we must stabilize the child care industry as a part of needed efforts to reduce child poverty and there are solutions we can choose to make it happen. Among many solutions that would support workers and families, one includes rejecting the devastating budget cuts facing the NYC Department of Education right now. The November Budget Modification could result in the loss of anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 Early Childhood Education slots and over 3,500 slots in COMPASS Afterschool. You can take a stand with us to say no to cuts that will negatively impact family well-being and likewise impact economic well-being for our communities. We can demand change together.

Take action with us now and stay connected to our work as we continue to push for child care affordability, pay increases for child care workers, and ultimately universal child care options in NYC and across the state.

Take Action Against Child Care Cuts Now! >

This post contains language provided by Alice Bufkin & Caitlyn Passaretti.

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