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Child care: an economic imperative for Greenville

By Amanda McDougald Scott, Research Associate

When I spoke last month at WREN’s Upstate Summit, I asked the room of attendees who had ever been on a waitlist for a child care slot – nearly all attendees raised their hands. Looking around the room, it was clear: we have an access problem.

How does access to affordable childcare and early childhood readiness programs affect economic outcomes for both women and children?

What are we doing well to increase access to childcare and early childhood development programs, and where are we falling short?

My slogan for 2018-2019, and as long as it needs to be, is Kindergarten Readiness is Workforce Readiness!  This statement is true for children, families, and employers.

For children, I’d like to reflect on the impacts of two early well-known child programs, the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC) and its sister program, the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education (CARE). Children served in these programs were considered “high risk,” defined in that study as children who had no father present, no parental employment, and participation in what was called “welfare” at the time of the study. This was a longitudinal, randomized controlled trial study, which sampled participants beginning age 8 weeks-5 years. These same participants were then followed through their mid-30s. The findings, highlighted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, compared children to peers who hadn’t had the program, include:

 

Most child programs are not as intensive or long-studied as these models, but evidence has been building for years to show that high-quality child care and early education can have long-term benefits.

For families, it is important to note that women make up almost half of the workforce. In Greenville County, as well as other areas of the country, woman are the primary or co-bread-winner in half of all families with children. Specifically in Greenville County, 30% of children are raised by single female parent, while only 5% of Greenville County children are raised by single male parent.

Women are disproportionately susceptible to facing economic insecurity at all stages of their life:

  • Employment discrimination
  • Overrepresentation in low-wage jobs
  • Difficulty accessing affordable, comprehensive healthcare
  • Greater responsibilities for unpaid caregiving

Women are also more likely than men to give up work, and pay steep penalties for doing so if they ever wish to return to work.

For employers, it is of note that quality child care leads to a more proficient workforce long-term. Social emotional competence provided through quality care environment is equally or more important to future academic development than learning numbers and letters, according to Dale Farran.

Parents who have access to quality care and/or schedules that allow flexibility are more productive and happy at work. An assessment by Kelly O’Donnell for the Institute for Child Success found that access to high quality affordable care for their young children enables 25,818 parents to work, increasing workforce productivity and family incomes by over $1 billion annually. Conversely, the inability of some parents to access dependable child care costs the South Carolina economy $900 million in foregone wages and absenteeism.

We need to embrace cross-sector approaches to improving the child care landscape for our families. Priorities should be:

Childcare voucher/subsidy access. Only the neediest families are eligible for vouchers under the current system: DSS provides funding for children who are in foster care, fall below 150% of the federal poverty line ($24,690 in 2018 for a family of 2), have a disability, and/or are receiving TANF benefits. But we know that many South Carolina families fall outside of this income limit but could still benefit from voucher access if there was an expansion of income eligibility.  The expansion of income eligibility should be flexible, so that families with insignificant increases in income would not become ineligible for childcare vouchers based on what would still be untenable pecuniary resources.

Number of childcare slots available—especially infant and toddler. Any parent who has signed up to enroll their child in a child care center knows that there is an access issue for childcare. There is a discrepancy between the number of children who are currently in need of childcare and the number of slots available, especially in our more rural areas of the state. As the Greenville News recently reported, Greenville County is a “child care desert”: the number of children needing care is more than the available slots in licensed centers by a ratio of three to one. About half of all children in Greenville County – and in the state child population – are under age 8, the period of greatest demand for child care, whether that is full-time, summer, or after-school care.

Childcare provider pay, benefits, and education. Nationally, the confluence of low wages relative to other fields and a frequent lack of benefits for child care providers creates stress on this workforce. Over a period from 2014 to 2016, 53% of child care workers utilized one of four major public support and health care program – the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This is compared to 21% of the U.S. workforce overall.

This research from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) actually shows an increase in utilization rates from previous years as a result of expanded Medicaid eligibility in many states. CSCEE identifies Medicaid expansion as strategy which particularly benefits early childhood providers; since Medicaid was expanded in 33 states, about one-third of child care workers and their families access health insurance through Medicaid.

And yet, the economics of child care mean the families may struggle to pay tuition while childcare providers themselves lack benefits and income stability. As shown in the table below, based on data collected by Child Care Aware in their South Carolina Fact Sheet, child care can be a substantial out-of-pocket income for families, placing a particularly heavy burden on single parent families.

For all the challenges we face in South Carolina, there are bright spots for families.

  • DSS is working hard on quality standards through ABC and the Program for Infant and Toddler Care (SCPITC).
  • First Steps scholarships extend scholarships to parents enrolled in Nurse Family Partnership, a teen enrolled in Greenville County Schools, enrollee of the Workforce Development, or enrollee of a degree-seeking program in an Upstate college.
  • Kellie Rynn Academy offers scholarships to parents in need, in order to extend access to high quality child care centers.
  • Greenville Chamber’s recent survey of its membership indicated a high interest in employee retention efforts and childcare, placing a new emphasis on helping to reduce childcare barriers for the Upstate workforce.
  • Corporations which call Greenville home bringing European-style benefits to their employees. For example, Michelin offers a dependent-match program to help with the cost of child care, up to $500 with discounts provided at some childcare facilities for Michelin employees. Companies are increasingly seeing that benefits like child care and helping foster work-life balance are tools to retain a happy, highly-skilled workforce.

What’s the biggest bright spot of all for South Carolina families? The committed advocates, providers, and stakeholders around the table willing and committed to finding solutions for these big challenges.  There is still work to be done, so let’s keep at it!

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