Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

“Every week in the United States, child care providers care for nearly 11 million children younger than age 5 whose mothers are working,” according to a new report.

Given those numbers, the United States has to “recognize the value of child care as an investment in early childhood education and as a support system for working families,” if we want to “remain competitive in the 21st-century global economy…”

This annual report — the “2015 State Fact Sheets,” — was just released by the nonprofit organization Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA).

Founded in 1987, CCAoA is “a national membership-based nonprofit organization working to advance affordability, accessibility, development and learning of children in child care.”

The report provides data on “America’s working families and the circumstances they face,” making it a “critical tool for child care advocates, policymakers and program administrators to guide decision-making about child care programs and costs.”

“This annual report uses federal and national data and information from state Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies and other state agencies to analyze:”

• family characteristics related to the need for child care

• the use of child care

• the supply of child care

• the cost of child care

• the child care workforce, and

• services provided by CCR&Rs

A National View of Child Care

The report points to key trends in child care, noting that the workforce is underpaid, quality is inconsistent, and the population of children in care is increasingly diverse.

Across the country: “Approximately 2.2 million individuals earn a living caring for children under age 5,” the report says. The average income for “a full-time child care professional in 2014 was only $21,710, making child care one of the lowest paying professional fields and, more importantly, one of the lowest paying occupations in early care and education.” In general, these workers “earn about half of what full-time workers with similar levels of education earn.”

As for quality: “Decades of research emphasize that quality child care has a lasting positive impact, particularly for children from low-income homes…. Unfortunately, poor-quality care has negative impacts on development, especially for low-income and minority children.”

And as the report points out, the nation’s increasing diverse children have increasingly diverse needs:

“Children of refugees and immigrants now account for 25 percent of the 23 million children under the age of 6, compared to 14 percent in 1990. Gateway states like California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois account for half of the number of children in immigrant families. Research has shown that these young children, especially dual language learners, benefit from quality child care. Further, the expansive growth of this demographic highlights the need for settings that consider the language and culture of the children being served.”

Massachusetts: Grappling with High Costs

The Massachusetts fact sheet tells a well-known truth: child care costs in the commonwealth are extremely high.

“Our 2014 Cost of Care report indicated that the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in center-based care ranges from $5,496 in Mississippi to $16,549 in Massachusetts,” the report says.

An analysis based on marital status reveals that married couples pay 15 percent of their incomes — the highest percent in the nation — to put their infants in child care centers. Single mothers pay 63 percent of their incomes to do so, which is also the highest percent in the nation.

Parents of older children also face high prices. “For a 4-year-old, center-based care ranges from $4,515 in Tennessee to $12,320 in Massachusetts.”

Other state reports are available here.

Opportunities for Advocacy

The report’s results should help advocates make the case for improving child care both in their own states and nationally.

Offering advice on ways to spread the word, CCAoA has a “Share Toolkit” on its website that can be downloaded. The toolkit features tips about posting on Facebook and Twitter as well as graphics featuring key quotes that can also be posted.

As the report explains:

“Quality child care benefits everyone: it promotes positive developmental outcomes for children and allows parents to pursue their own education and career goals, eventually increasing their earning potential and their contribution to the economy. To improve the state of U.S. child care nationally, we MUST work together to find meaningful solutions that support working families and their children.”