Senator Says Action is Necessary to Help Working Families, Especially Women, Return to Workforce, Get Businesses and Economy Back on Track

WASHINGTON, D.C. [10/25/21]— U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn) said today that after 18 months of a devastating pandemic, historic investments in childcare and universal pre-kindergarten education will be necessary to help working families – especially women – return to the workforce, a key element in getting businesses and the economy back on track.   

In a letter Friday, Sen. Smith led a group of 15 key Senators in pressing President Biden and Congressional leaders to include $450 billion in the Build Back Better budget package now being negotiated for both childcare and universal pre-k.

“Our economy will not work, nor will it return to normal, if families do not have safe, affordable, high-quality childcare options,” the Senators wrote. “And while we are very supportive of the Child Tax Credit and universal, paid leave as complementary proposals, investing in childcare and universal pre-k is essential to help working families, and particularly women, return to work.”

Smith and the other Senators cited Federal Reserve research show that early in the pandemic, mothers and fathers left the work force in equal numbers.  Today, while most fathers have returned to work, but mothers have not regained the lost ground.  Indeed, the September jobs report showed that men gained 220,000 jobs while women lost 26,000.  They also pointed out that while employers struggle to find workers, federal data shows that lack of childcare is a key factor preventing employees from returning to work.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).  

You can read the full letter here or read the full text below:

Dear President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer,

We write to express strong support for the inclusion of at least $450 billion for both childcare and universal pre-k as we continue to work on the Build Back Better package and deliver on the President’s agenda for working families. Significant, historic action on affordable, high-quality childcare for working families and universal pre-k for three- and four-year olds is a necessity for our economy and families.

Our economy will not work, nor will it return to normal, if families do not have safe, affordable, high-quality childcare options. And while we are very supportive of the Child Tax Credit and universal, paid leave as complementary proposals, investing in childcare and universal pre-k is essential to help working families, and particularly women, return to work. Research from the Federal Reserve showed that early in the pandemic, both moms and dads left the workforce in equal numbers for caregiving responsibilities at home, but that now, while nearly all dads have returned to work, moms have not regained this lost ground. This resulting drop in the labor force participation among women and especially the mothers of young children is concerning. This trend has been borne out in recent jobs reports, showing that men are gaining jobs and women are leaving the labor force, which also matches recent Department of Labor survey data showing that a lack of childcare is preventing workers from returning to work. We cannot let a lack of care options imperil our country’s continued economic growth and progress.

Including both childcare and universal pre-k in the Build Back Better agenda is also critical in order to lower costs for working families. These proposals would bring costs down from 13 percent of family income, on average, to a maximum of 7 percent of family income—almost half. Under one estimate, a family of four making $100,000 with two children ages 3 and 5, would pay between $3,000 and $4,000 a year (or $250 to $335 a month) for childcare. Reducing families’ payments to a maximum of 7 percent of income would bring enormous relief to families that are routinely juggling care costs that are higher than a mortgage payment or in-state college tuition.

A significant, historic investment in both affordable, high-quality childcare for working families and universal pre-k for three- and four-year olds is a wise one as the return on investment for high-quality early education makes this action worthwhile and cost-effective. We know that children’s early life experiences from zero to five are foundational for the rest of their lives. Ensuring that children are robustly supported during these critical years of care and education reaps a bevy of benefits from improved education and health outcomes, and longer-term benefits like higher wages that literally payoff over the course of a lifetime.

An investment of this scale would enable us to make significant progress towards addressing the workforce challenges of the childcare and early education sector, which are currently marked by low-wages and high-turnover. Childcare and early education teachers and staff have historically been underpaid, which is especially galling given the importance of the work that they do and that this work is mostly done by women of color. These low wages exist because childcare and early education involve several market failures at once, as detailed in the U.S. Treasury’s recent report on the Economics of Child Care Supply in the United States, which our current policies do not do enough to mitigate. The current economic challenges facing the sector have also set-off a terrible cascading effect—because of a lack of support and investment in the sector, as employers, providers have no way of raising wages to attract and retain teachers and staff. Thus the sector, which features average wages of $12/hour and where an estimated 98 percent of jobs pay more, is seeing challenges with filling vacancies and keeping staff. The existence of a better compensated workforce in our public K-12 school system only exacerbates the staffing challenges and flight from childcare and early education.

As we continue working on the Build Back Better package, we strongly encourage you to support the inclusion of at least $450 billion for both childcare for working families and universal pre-k for three- and four-year olds. Together these proposals will help keep our economic growth on track, lower pocketbook costs for families, deliver high-quality education and care for young children in critical years, and offer important support for the early care and education workforce.

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