Over recent months, federal pandemic relief dollars have begun reaching child care providers in a meaningful way, and as a result, child care employment numbers have seen their first significant rebound since the beginning of the pandemic — an increase of nearly 8,000 jobs in February. A February survey of 5,000 child care providers from across the country found 85% of the sector had received stabilization funding through the American Rescue plan. Of those, 75% reported that their programs had used the funds to support compensation for educators, allowing them to retain and even recruit workers.
While these numbers are encouraging, the money from the American Rescue Plan is temporary and does not address the long-term existential flaws that set America’s child care system up for failure in the first place. With every month that passes without long-term, substantial federal funding for the child care sector, America gets one one month closer to relief money expiring and an eventual collapse of this critical sector. In fact, 75% of providers from the same study (above) report that the end of federal relief funding and grants will have a negative or highly negative effect on their programs.
What’s more, while child care employment ticked up in February, the sector remains 100,000 jobs below February 2020 levels, even as the rest of the economy and labor force are experiencing a historic recovery. The child care sector was already failing to meet the needs of families, providers, and the economy prior to the pandemic. Even if American Rescue Plan funding continues to allow the child care workforce to bounce back to where it was before, the early learning sector is in need of serious funding to address deep financial disparities caused by decades of underinvestment.
The Takeaway: America’s child care sector would have collapsed without federal relief, and cannot succeed moving forward without significant, sustained funding. As proven by today’s jobs numbers, it has helped providers stay in business and navigate the uncertainty of a health and economic crisis; but it also offered glimpses of what child care in America should be, with a stable supply market and better compensation for the early learning workforce. That’s why it’s so essential that child care & pre-K be included in any economic package Congress sends to the President’s desk for signature.