The recently released Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by the childcare system in the United States in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report highlights that the childcare workforce in the country remains at 50,000 workers, smaller than it was in February 2020, indicating a significant shortage of childcare professionals.
Even before the pandemic, obtaining affordable and accessible child care was a well-known issue. However, the latest Data Book emphasizes that these problems persist. In Maryland, for example, the average annual cost of caring for a toddler exceeds $11,000, accounting for 8% of a couple’s median income and 25% of a single mother’s income.
Nonso Umunna, the Kids Count director at the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, stresses the importance of addressing this issue. Umunna states, “We know that access to high-quality, affordable child care is essential for families, the Maryland economy, and the national economy. Unfortunately, this year’s Data Book reflects that today’s child care system is not working very well for anyone.”
According to the Data Book, Maryland ranks 21st overall in child well-being. However, the report highlights that nearly 12% of children in the state live in families where someone had to quit, change, or refuse a job due to difficulties accessing child care.
Over the years, childcare costs have skyrocketed, rising 220% since the publication of the first Data Book in 1990, significantly outpacing inflation. Shockingly, childcare workers are paid less than 98% of other professions, despite requiring extensive training. Umunna points out that child care workers earn a median wage of approximately $14 per hour, just above the national average in Maryland. This amount is significantly less than the wages earned by retail workers and customer service representatives, who make around $18 per hour.
The report calls for increased financial support from federal, state, and local authorities to bolster the childcare system. The United States spends only 0.33% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on early childhood education, a significantly lower figure than countries like France, Norway, and Sweden, which allocate 1.3% of their GDP or more to this sector.
Furthermore, the report indicates a decline in educational outcomes, with three out of four education indicators showing a negative trend. Leslie Boissiere, the vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, attributes these setbacks to the impact of the pandemic on students’ academic progress. Boissiere explains, “In particular, in the area of education, we’ve lost significant gains on third-grade reading, as well as math proficiency by eighth grade, as well as the number of three- and four-year-olds who are enrolled in pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten.”
The report also reveals a concerning statistic regarding math proficiency among Maryland eighth graders. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of students not proficient in math increased from 67% to 75%, aligning with national trends showing a decline in math skills among eighth graders nationwide.
The findings of the Kids Count Data Book highlight the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the challenges faced by the childcare system in the United States. Accessible and affordable high-quality child care is crucial not only for families but also for the overall economy. By increasing financial support at various levels of government, the nation can work towards ensuring a brighter future for its children and closing the gaps in educational outcomes.