One of the most inexplicable things about this country is its refusal to fund universal childcare. No longer a nation of stay-at-home mothers, the need for free or affordable childcare is ever present. Cost is an issue with many places charging as much as college tuition for the ability to work outside the home. Even remote work is hindered by the demands of children at home needing frequent attention and care.
Post pandemic (if that is possibly true), even the availability of care has been significantly impacted. Staffing is an issue as inflation has made the entry level salaries of $8 to $10 impossible to live on, if one can find dependable and interested workers. Increasing costs and regulations has made the economic model more and more challenging for small centers and larger chains have targeted more affluent families.
In-home care for young children now also competes with in-home care for seniors. Families that used to depend on intergenerational help are often disconnected by work, distance or circumstances. Many grandparents are forced to continue working to support themselves or dealing with personal health issues and are not available full time. And many families are being forced to simultaneously take care of parents with chronic illness while trying to raise their own children.
Even if childcare providers are found, the levels of quality of staff and programs vary greatly. Local and state efforts to improve access and quality are often limited to the work of a few non-profits and stressed state agencies. Federal leadership and funding are limited and tax credits or program support dependent upon contentious annual budgets.
What is needed is not hard to see if one looks to other developed countries, especially in Europe. Investing in universal childcare, early childhood education and post-secondary education has produced societies with higher levels of literacy, lower crime and incarceration rates, and many other societal and economic benefits. Lower defense spending has allowed higher social and educational support. That we know is a touchy subject in this country. Somehow, however, we have to find a solution before a lack affordable childcare becomes an even greater crisis.