New Poll Confirms: Unaffordable and Inaccessible Child Care Impacts Parents’ Ability to Work

By Alisha Saxena

A recent survey conducted by Data for Progress and CLASP paints a dire picture of the affordable child care landscape. This crisis has been years in the making; while the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is the primary source of federal funding for child care in the United States, CCDF doesn’t have enough funding to reach all families with low incomes that could benefit from assistance. In fact, when all sources of funding, including CCDF, are considered, only 1 in 6 potentially eligible children receive assistance due to inadequate resources. This lack of financial support is coupled with a child care workforce crisis as providers leave the field for better-paying and less-stressful work. CCDF program data show a 5 percent decrease in the number of providers who participated in the child care assistance program between Fiscal Year (FY)19 and FY20. This comes on top of years of prior decline in participating providers, making finding affordable care even more challenging.

New results from the survey conducted by Data for Progress in collaboration with CLASP demonstrate the employment and financial challenges that parents face due to inaccessible child care.

Specific to the impact of child care on parents’ ability to work, CLASP and DFP found that:

  • Fifty-four percent of parents either could not find or struggled to find child care options within their budget. We expect this will only worsen without additional investment, given the first expiration of the COVID child care stabilization funds on September 30 and the final expiration next fall.
  • When selecting from a list of options, over 30 percent of families agreed that less-expensive child care was the most important factor in helping improve their work or their ability to work. One important factor here is the ability to have access to child care while searching for work. With the pandemic child care relief funds, 12 states were able to offer either eligibility or continued eligibility to families for child care assistance for longer periods of time while a parent searched for a job. However, now that a majority of the funds have expired, it is unclear whether states will be able to continue offering such accommodations.
  • Thus, affordability and access to care are currently barriers for parents seeking or maintaining employment. The survey found that 66 percent of families somewhat or strongly agreed that more affordable child care would allow them to advance their careers or switch jobs to better suit their lives.

These challenges further exacerbate longstanding and systemic racial inequities in accessing care, along with income inequality and child development outcomes. Black and Hispanic families were most likely to report inadequate access to child care during the pandemic, but these inequities existed long before then due to a combination of policies and systems designed to exclude certain populations from accessing care, including white supremacist views of who “deserved” care.

Today, Hispanic and American Indian Alaska Native communities disproportionately live in areas with a low supply of licensed child care. Child care instability is most common among families with low incomes. Given that cost is the primary barrier to families accessing child care, rising costs disproportionately limit access and deepen income inequality for communities of color. A lack of access to child care, along with changes in child care arrangements, can negatively impact child development. Thus, child care affordability and accessibility are crucial for ensuring equity in participation and outcomes.

The need for additional investment is urgent. The federal government must respond to the White House’s request and invest at least $16 billion to maintain the progress made with relief funding and to allow states to better support children and families. This investment will avoid disruptions in care and prevent further inequities for many communities. Existing funding is not enough to sustain the progress made with child care relief investments over the last three years, and congressional inaction will only worsen both the rising costs and shrinking supply of child care.