As Covid funding expires, ‘fundamental flaw’ in childcare industry remains

States are trying to find ways to keep child-care centers afloat after billions in pandemic-era funding is set to run out this month, prompting worries that facility closures could impact workforce participation and limit children’s access to early education.

Justine Modica, a postdoctoral fellow in history at Cornell University, is writing a book on the history of childcare labor in America. She says the childcare industry has been unstable for decades.

Modica says: “The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) offered a lifeline to the industry, but it did not repair its fundamental structural flaw: the full cost of high-quality care cannot be absorbed by the market.

“Yes, another cash infusion into the industry will help, but it’s a short-term solution. As soon as funds dry up, workers will be forced to leave the field to seek employment elsewhere, often in higher-paying minimum-wage jobs. Twenty-five to forty percent of America’s childcare workers leave their jobs each year, and this has been the case for the past thirty to forty years.

“In 1971, Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act (CCDA), which would have laid the groundwork for a universal childcare system. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by President Nixon. If we want to stabilize the childcare system so that workers can stay in the industry and families can secure affordable, high-quality care, we need to consider universal approaches like the CCDA.”

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Markus Spiske/Unsplash The childcare industry has been unstable for decades, says historian Justine Modica.