Affordable Child Care and Preschool Are Critical Supports for a Changing US Workforce

Last week, the CBP and the Women’s Foundation of California jointly released a report showing that women are not sharing equally in the state’s emerging economic recovery and that recent cuts to key public services and systems threaten pathways to economic opportunity for women — especially low-income women. One of the report’s major points is the deep reduction made to state funding for child care and preschool programs in the past several years. State policymakers have cut annual funding for subsidized child care and preschool programs by more than $900 million since 2007-08, resulting in the elimination of more than 110,000 child care and preschool slots. At a joint hearing of the Assembly Budget Subcommittees on Health and Human Services and Education Finance last Wednesday, we highlighted these cuts while discussing the importance of child care and preschool programs for low-income families.

Prioritizing support for child care and preschool programs is especially critical in light of the changing nature of the US workforce — in particular, the large number of mothers of young children entering the labor force in recent decades. As discussed in our testimony at last week’s joint hearing, the share of women working or looking for work that have children age 5 or under has risen substantially since 1975, from 39.0 percent to 64.2 percent — an increase of nearly two-thirds. Additionally, in 2010, more than 30 percent of women in the workforce with young children were single mothers, meaning that the stakes of creating economic opportunity for women are as large as ever.

Subsidized child care and preschool programs are especially important for low-income women, given that child care is one of the most expensive items in a household budget. In 2011, in Los Angeles County, full-time care for an infant in a child care center was, on average, $11,499 annually. When women struggle to afford child care, it presents one additional barrier to securing employment.

Low-income women who do have access to child care assistance have a greater chance of maintaining employment, increasing earning potential, and becoming financially independent. Boosting state support for child care and preschool is a prime example of the kind of strategic public investments that can support women’s economic advancement and security. Policy choices made today will determine whether we work toward widely shared prosperity and healthy families over the long-term.

— Kristin Schumacher