According to a 2017 report from the Center for American Progress, approximately half of families in the United States live in child care deserts. In these areas the demand for child care and early learning greatly exceeds the supply of available openings – with three or more children for every licensed child care slot, families are forced on to impossibly long waiting lists. In some areas, this issue is so pervasive that providers have been forced to close waitlists after reaching over five hundred names.

Fifty-eight percent of individuals in rural communities and 57 percent of those in low-income urban communities live in child care deserts. For example, in Deschutes County, Oregon which is located between Cascade Mountain Range and the high desert plateau, there are 17 child care slots for every 100 children. With so few slots, it is difficult for parents to find any child care, let alone high quality care they can afford. This is particularly troublesome since reliable, affordable, care is vital to parents’ ability to find and maintain work.

The First Five Years Fund’s 2017 annual poll found that regardless of income, most voters say there is a lack of affordable, high-quality early childhood programs in their area. Additionally, 89 percent of voters believe that making early education and care more affordable is important.

Without adequate child care options, both children and adults are negatively impacted. Kids living in child care deserts are at a higher risk of entering school behind their peers who did access a high-quality early childhood education. Having high-quality early learning provides children with the support they need to build the foundation for a healthy and productive future. Limited and unreliable child care impacts parents as well. Research shows that child care deserts have fewer mothers employed than areas with more child care options – limiting economic productivity for businesses and families, and costing American businesses $4.4 billion annually due to parent absenteeism.

All children and families deserve high-quality, affordable care options that are accessible and reliable. By building upon the existing investment in high-quality early childhood education, we can work towards addressing child care deserts so that children and families benefit from their choice of multiple, viable, child care options.

Read more about child care deserts here.