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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Seattle Times editorial board: Quality, affordable child care is an economic necessity

Seattle Times editorial board

By Seattle Times editorial board

Even a child could see that the math just doesn’t work.

Sixty-one percent of Washington children live in households where all parents are in the workforce. But even before massive closures caused by the coronavirus, there were only 187,535 spaces in licensed child care facilities compared with the estimated 736,880 kids, aged 0-12, who need nonparental care.

Figuring out how to bridge the gap is a more complicated calculation. It will take creative solutions and broad public, private and community partnership to ensure quality, affordable child care is available to any family that needs it.

This is about more than child well-being and family finances; it’s about the health of Washington’s economy. We’re all hurt when parents can’t work and be assured children are well cared for while they do.

A new industrywide assessment of child care needs and resources commissioned by the state’s Child Care Collaborative Task Force confirms what many people long suspected – quality, affordable child care is beyond reach of too many Washington families.

Before the global-health emergency, more than half a million children did not have access to licensed child care, the study concluded. Nearly 20% of parents surveyed said they’d turned down a job offer or promotion because of child care concerns.

That squeeze has only been made more difficult as schools launch remote learning. At the same time, many informal arrangements have faltered as grandparents, trusted friends and neighbors have shrunk social circles to minimize their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Certainly, the decision to have children is a personal one. For some fortunate households, the decision to have two parents working outside the home is a choice. But for many others, outside employment is a matter of survival, not an option. And families aren’t the only ones who suffer because of Washington’s child care gap.

The Washington State Department of Commerce estimates that child care issues are at the root of employee turnover and missed work representing about $2.08 billion in lost productivity per year. In a May survey, nearly half of unemployed parents surveyed said lack of child care was a barrier to re-employment.

Still, solutions were scarce even before this spring’s upheaval. New social-distancing and staffing requirements, while necessary to protect health and safety, have made a difficult situation worse.

In the near term, Congress must act swiftly to stabilize this fragile and vital industry by greenlighting the $50 billion child care stabilization fund proposed by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Moving forward will require more substantive, sustainable change.

The Child Care Collaborative Task Force is developing recommendations for a comprehensive strategy and implementation plan to be delivered to state legislators next summer. Employers, community partners and parents should get involved in the discussion to make sure every child who needs it has access to quality, affordable care.

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