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As Covid funding expires, ‘fundamental flaw’ in childcare industry remains

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Adam Allington

States are trying to find ways to keep child-care centers afloat after billions in pandemic-era funding is set to run out this month, prompting worries that facility closures could impact workforce participation and limit children’s access to early education.

Justine Modica

Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow

Justine Modica, a postdoctoral fellow in history at Cornell University, is writing a book on the history of childcare labor in America. She says the childcare industry has been unstable for decades.

“The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) offered a lifeline to the industry, but it did not repair its fundamental structural flaw: the full cost of high-quality care cannot be absorbed by the market.

“Yes, another cash infusion into the industry will help, but it’s a short-term solution. As soon as funds dry up, workers will be forced to leave the field to seek employment elsewhere, often in higher-paying minimum-wage jobs. Twenty-five to forty percent of America’s childcare workers leave their jobs each year, and this has been the case for the past thirty to forty years.

“In 1971, Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act (CCDA), which would have laid the groundwork for a universal childcare system. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by President Nixon. If we want to stabilize the childcare system so that workers can stay in the industry and families can secure affordable, high-quality care, we need to consider universal approaches like the CCDA.”

Cathy Creighton

Director of Cornell University ILR Buffalo Co-Lab

Cathy Creighton, director of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations Buffalo Co-Lab, co-authored of a 2022 report on New York State’s child care industry.

“While state increases in childcare support helped prevent a complete meltdown of the industry, it has not moved the childcare industry forward. Our initial findings show that the childcare workforce has not grown and that the number of providers is only marginally better. 

“Without federal support, we can expect that states won’t have the budgets to pay childcare subsidies. Which means that providers won’t be able to hire workers, costs will skyrocket, parents can’t go to work and women will likely be disproportionately impacted.”

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