By Patrick Gill and Shay Everitt, CHILDREN AT RISK

In the recently released report, Building Brains & Economies: Quality Child Care as an Engine for Economic Development in a 21st Century Texas, CHILDREN AT RISK examines how quality child care can be leveraged to drive Texas’s economy forward today and for years to come. This blog series summarizes key findings from this report. This post, one of six, explores how lack of child care access impacts working families.

Child care is an essential support for Texas’s working families. Unfortunately, many families who need child care can’t get it. Even for those who can, arrangements are often unstable. Nearly half of U.S. families miss work in a given year due to child care breakdowns; this missed work costs American businesses about $4.4 billion annually. In the past year alone, 7.2% of Texas families report quitting or changing jobs due to child care difficulties; that number jumps to 11.5% for families living in poverty.

In Texas, high costs put child care out of reach for many families with young children. The federal government recommends that child care costs not take up more than 7% of a family’s income in order to be considered affordable. A family in Texas with one infant needs to make $140,000 per year for child care costs to meet this federal recommendation. Texas’s median household income is only $57,000 annually, making the federal recommendation unrealistic for most families.

In fact, child care costs exceed 7% of annual income for families at all income levels:

For many middle- and low-income families in Texas, choosing between child care costs and not working is no choice at all. Child care is simply too expensive.

Texas’s subsidized child care program offers a potential solution to this problem by providing financial assistance for child care to parents who are working or going to school. Currently, though, this program only serves about 10% of eligible children, leaving too many families without this valuable resource.

This gap especially impacts women, who make up half of the potential labor force. In Texas, though, there is a 34% gap in labor force participation between men and women living with children under 5. While some of these women may be choosing to stay home, women who are not working tend to have lower incomes and less education than their working peers, indicating that many may be forced to stay home due to high child care costs.

Child care access also contributes to the gender wage gap. For married, heterosexual couples between 25 and 35, the pay gap between the husband and wife doubles immediately after the birth of their first child and never fully recovers, even for couples who had similar salaries prior to having children.

In countries with more robust family policy systems, studies have shown that greater investment in early childhood education—such as quality child care—is the one policy which consistently increases women’s employment and closes the wage gap between men and women. Other common proposals, such as increased paid family leave, have mixed impacts.

Increasing access to quality, affordable child care will support Texas’s families and its economy by providing stability to working parents and by allowing more parents to enter the workforce.

To learn more about how Texas can help families and children, check out CHILDREN AT RISK’s full report: Building Brains & Economies: Quality Child Care as an Engine for Economic Development in a 21st Century Texas.

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