By Erica Stephens, Founder & Executive Director, Nana Grants, Inc.
The United States marched off a child care cliff last week. How else can I describe our relentless move toward this inevitable outcome?
This manufactured crisis is the result of expiring pandemic emergency relief funds that had helped thousands of child care centers pay their staff, upgrade facilities and help keep costs lower for parents. In the short term, providers are expected to raise rates. In the longer term, experts say some providers will go out of business.
We’ve been approaching the cliff for months – years, in fact — as legislators and business leaders stubbornly ignore our nation’s growing child care crisis.
Perhaps our leaders think child care is an issue that only affects parents. They couldn’t be more wrong. This crisis impacts employers, job creation, productivity, economic output, schools, household savings, mental health, and our nation’s ability to compete in a global economy.
We’ve arrived at the “mess around and find out” stage as we cope with economic, employment and governmental systems that almost completely ignore our most basic human need to care for our children.
As the founder and executive director of Nana Grants, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that pays for child care for low-income single mothers in college and job training, I often say that all the scholarship money in the world is useless to a mother who can’t afford child care. When you are a parent, everything depends on child care — your ability to work, attend school and run your daily life.
And when you have an economy that depends on the productivity of parents, your economy depends on child care.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines affordable child care as costing less than 7% of household income. The average cost of child care in Atlanta is $20,040 per year. That means a family needs to earn more than $285,000 per year to safely afford child care in Atlanta. However, the median household income in Atlanta is around $69,000 — which is barely a quarter of that amount.
The economic impact of insufficient child care is everyone’s problem. A study by ReadyNation estimates our infant/toddler child care crisis costs $122 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue every year.
Sustainable economic and employment systems must address caregiving. Working parents are struggling. That goes double for single, low-income and/or student parents. Parenthood has become a barrier to prosperity. And it’s about to get worse.
Thanks to funders like the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Nana Grants provides child care support for low-income student mothers. But we are a tiny Band-Aid on a critically ill system that needs life support. We cannot rely on crisis-driven safety net programs and charitable organizations to fix systemic child care failures.
As business and community leaders, you can influence priorities at the local, state and federal levels. Our values are evident in our investments.
Erica Stephens is the Founder and Executive Director of Nana Grants, Inc., a 501(c)3 that raises money to cover child care expenses so low-income single mothers can finish college and job training programs and become more financially independent. Learn more at www.NanaGrants.org.