Invest in Child Care to Tap Families’ Economic Potential

This past October, more than 1,000 Georgians and several statewide organizations added their names to a letter asking Gov. Nathan Deal to build on Georgia’s progress in helping low-income working families afford child care. Parents, advocates and experts alike know that high-quality care is essential for working adults to thrive in today’s economy and for children to get a strong start toward success in life. Although the governor’s initial spending plan does not include any new child care funds, state budget-writers have plenty of time to revisit the issue. A bold investment in helping parents afford quality care can give a booster shot to the state’s economy and communities by unleashing families’ full productive potential.

State lawmakers last year added $5.5 million to the budget for Childcare and Parent Services program, Georgia’s caregiving assistance tool for low-income working families. Those dollars provided critical support for both families in need of a hand-up and the local child care centers that provide it.

They were also a sound investment in Georgia’s economy. Companies and communities today rely far more than in decades past on the workforce contributions of both adults in married households, as well as single parents. That means affordable, quality child care is a more crucial link in the economic chain than ever before.

Helping parents afford the sky-high costs of child care supports economic growth in three ways. One, it removes a barrier to families’ full economic participation, especially for women. About 13 percent of women nationwide ages 25 to 54 who are not in the workforce cite home responsibilities as their leading reason for not working, compared to only 1 percent of men. Two, research shows that parents who receive help paying for child care are more likely to stay employed, put in more hours and avoid child-related disruptions such as missed days. And three, quality care lays the foundation for the future growth of children to get a strong start that can lead to grade level reading proficiency, high school graduation and long-term career success. More details on the full economic case for child care are available in our 2015 report, “Child Care Assistance: Georgia’s Opportunity to Bolster Working Families, Economy.”

This year, advocates proposed an additional $9.5 million in Georgia’s 2019 budget can offer a good target amount for lawmakers to further build on last year’s progress. About 2,500 Georgia children stand to gain from funding at that level, a commendable step forward.

At the same time, the true scope of need for Georgia’s parents and families and their untapped economic potential is much greater. Today, the program helps about 54,000 Georgia children weekly, which is only about 8 percent of the 623,000 low-income children under 13 years old in working families who likely need care. For many families who don’t receive assistance, the high costs of care put a supportive environment for their children out of reach. Low-income families in Georgia can spend nearly half of their monthly income on child care, with the other half stretched thin for other necessities like housing, food and transportation.

A new and bold commitment to child care among Georgia lawmakers could provide a critical lifeline to parents working their way into the middle class and maximize families’ economic contributions. Such an effort would carry a cost, as does any public effort to address shared challenges and invest in common needs. By GBPI’s estimates it might cost as much as $500 million a year to ensure that all Georgia children up to four years old can afford high-quality, center-based child care.

More modest plans with high return on investment are also available, such as providing child care help to young parents in Georgia technical colleges. Nearly 1,300 single parents with low incomes are already enrolled in Georgia’s HOPE Career Grant program, which supports Georgians to gain credentials in high-demand career fields. But the state does not set aside money to help these parents with child care. Correcting the omission takes an estimated $7 million a year from the state treasury. Taking the next step to fund child care for the more than 5,500 student parents in the broader HOPE Grant program for technical colleges costs an estimated $30 million a year.

Investing in student parents not only increases those families’ incomes, but also produces a more skilled workforce ready to meet employer demand. More than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require a certificate, college diploma, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree by 2025, yet only 48 percent of the state’s young adults hold one of those now. A targeted investment in child care for technical college parents is a sound strategy to close part of that gap. More details are available in GBPI’s January 2018 report “Boost Georgia’s Workforce with Affordable Child Care for Student Parents.”

People don’t often think about things such as child care assistance or targeted tax breaks for working families as investments in the state’s economy, as opposed to efforts like business tax breaks and subsidies designed to support private companies. But the bottom line is that when parents can balance career and caregiving responsibilities and provide a better environment for their children, the overall economy realizes the gain. State budget-writers and other lawmakers can provide Georgia that boost this year by providing the $9.5 million suggested by Georgia’s Childcare Affordability Workgroup. Additional, bolder investments in the years to come could take Georgia to the next level and help build a state where all families can contribute to their fullest.

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