Within Reach

The Center for American Progress launches a new campaign for early education.

The New Campaign For Quality Early Education For Working Families

From strollers to diapers, having a child is expensive. And it turns out it’s only getting more expensive: from 2000 to 2012, child care costs for a typical middle class family skyrocketed by 30 percent. Over the same period, wages stagnated further squeezing middle class families. Despite the fact that child care costs are placing an increasingly large burden on the budgets of working families, there has been little forward movement to establish a public solution. That’s why today, the Center for American Progress launched WithinReach, a campaign to put high-quality child care and pre-k within reach for working families.

Child care has often been dismissed as solely a women’s issue and overlooked in the national political conversation. But high-quality child care and pre-k is good for everyone, not just women. It gets children prepared for school, gives families a fair shot to get ahead, and allows parents to fully participate in the workforce, thereby strengthening the whole economy. Here are a few more facts explaining why:

Access to early education is essential in giving children a fair shot:

  • 90 percent of brain development happens before age 5, but many families are forced to sacrifice high-quality early education for a paycheck.
  • Children who do participate in high-quality pre-k programs gain up to one year of additional learning.

Affordable child care enables parents to stay in the work force, and helps working families get ahead, not just get by:

  • From 2000 to 2012, child care costs for a typical middle class family grew by 30 percent. Today, the average annual child care costs for an infant and a four year old is $17,755.
  • 65 percent of American children under 6 have both parents in the workforce, and 64 percent of U.S. women with children under age 6 are in the workforce.
  • In all 50 states, child care costs more than median rent. In 31 states and DC, it costs more than college. Find out how child care costs add up in your state with this interactive map.

Investment in high-quality child care and early education benefits the entire economy:

  • Every $1 invested in early childhood education delivers $7 in public benefits.
  • Equal access to high-quality child care and pre-k would increase GDP by $551 billion.
  • Quality care and adequate wages for child care workers go hand in hand—one can’t exist without the other.

At the campaign’s launch this morning Sen. Shaheen (D-NH) summed up the importance of the issue, “This is a place where the economic and the moral arguments are the same.” Unfortunately, right now our policies are out-of-step with the realities of American families. The majority of American children under 6 have both parents in the workforce, which means parents are often forced to choose between their child’s care and a paycheck. But there are policies that could help put early education within reach. Here are a couple essential proposals from CAP:

High-quality child care tax credit: The high-quality child care tax credit would help low- and middle-income families afford child care by providing a new tax credit to families that make up to four times the federal poverty level.

  • The credit would be contingent on quality standards from providers that could be phased in over time. The credit also builds in higher wages for child care workers, meaning child care workers would make an average of $16 an hour./li>
  • Families would pay 2-12 percent of their income as a co-payment to the provider. And the credit would be paid in real time on a monthly basis so families do not have to pay out-of-pocket and wait for a tax refund.
  • Child Care Development Block Grant funds would continue to support state systems and help to build the supply of quality child care.

Universal pre-k: Universal pre-k would help put quality early education within reach by providing access to voluntary pre-k for all 3- and 4-year old children.

  • CAP’s universal pre-k proposal the federal government would, on average, match state pre-k expenditures up to $10,000 per child per year.
  • For families at or below twice the federal poverty level, pre-k would be free. And children from families above twice the federal poverty level would pay a tuition co-pay on a sliding scale.

BOTTOM LINE: The combination of sky-rocketing costs and low quality are putting quality child care and pre-k out of reach for too many families, forcing them to make an impossible choice between their pay check and their child’s care. A strong economy starts with strong families. It’s time to put child care and pre-k within reach for all families.

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