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Report: Washington State is experiencing a child care affordability crisis

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, over half a million children in Washington did not have access to licensed child care, and nearly one in five parents surveyed turned down a job offer or promotion due to challenges presented by child care, according to a new Child Care Industry Assessment Report released by the Department of Commerce (DOC) this week.

A task force study, the Child Care Industry Assessment Report analyzes the state of the child care industry amid the pandemic, and how the industry has evolved since January. DOC acted as co-convener of the task force study with the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

The state agencies of which the task force is comprised said the report paints a clear picture of the child care industry’s shortcomings.

Child care is unaffordable for most middle and lower-income working families. Benefit ‘cliffs’ make it so that getting a small raise often results in astronomical, and unaffordable, increases in child care costs for a family. Not only does this often leave kids in unstable arrangements, it locks their parents into low-wage, unstable jobs. Fixing this will be expensive, but not re-opening the economy would be even more so,” said Department of Children, Youth and Families Secretary Ross Hunter.

In addition to finding that over half a million children in Washington did not have access to licensed child care before the pandemic, the report also found that although 61% of young children live in households where all parents work, the state has sufficient licensed child care capacity for only 41% of young children and 5% of school-age children.

Furthermore, 18.3% parents surveyed turned down a job offer or promotion due to issues surrounding child care. This issue was found to be more prevalent among Black and Native American parents, according to the report.

51% of female job-seekers, compared to 41% among male job-seekers, listed child care as an impediment to seeking employment. Overall, almost half (47%) of unemployed parents found child care to be a barrier to their employment search.

Child care access and affordability are significant challenges, affecting parents’ job prospects, productivity and career decisions, with the impact even greater for Black and Native American parents,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “Clearly, a dramatic investment in child care is needed for robust, equitable economic recovery in Washington state.”

While state unemployment claims have been declining for five consecutive weeks, the number of people filing remains at a historic high. Adding to the hardship, a number people are waiting on aid; some still haven’t received benefits months after becoming unemployed. Gridlock at the federal level could also prevent Washingtonians from seeing another round of weekly payments.

With this lack of financial support, many parents must also contend with shuttered child care programs and a shift to remote learning in schools, cautioned the task force.

Many workers with children, especially women, will exit the labor force without safe, affordable child care options. As a result, businesses and employers ready to resume and expand will find fewer workers available,” said task force tri-chair Amy Anderson. “Washington’s economy will not recover without child care.”

DOC also pointed to a finding by Child Care Aware of Washington that in late June, one in five child care providers temporarily closed.

Providers are working hard to stay open despite rapidly changing enrollments and operating requirements,” said task force tri-chair Luc Jasmin. “Without support, many child care businesses will be unable to re-open, and essential workers will find it difficult to continue to report to their places of employment.”

The task force indicated that it is working to develop a child care cost estimation model, along with workforce compensation and subsidy policy recommendations, with an expected release this December. The work will lead up to the formation of a strategy and implementation plan targeted for June 2021.

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