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As America Recovers from the Pandemic, Data Shows Child Care Remains a Major Challenge for Working Parents

Resource June 16, 2021

The results of a new survey reveal that finding and affording quality child care remains a major hurdle for working parents, and the pandemic only made things worse.

Key findings from the 2021 Cost of Care Survey

  • The cost of child care is higher for families in 2021. 85% of parents, compared to only 72% in 2020, report they are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care. 
  • Quality child care is only harder to come by as we begin to recover from the pandemic. More than half of American families already lived in a child care desert, and now 46% of families report that finding child care is more difficult now, compared to pre-pandemic. 
  • Parents are struggling to pay for child care so they can get back to work. 62% of families say they have more concern about the cost of child care now. Plus, 94% of parents have used at least one major cost-saving strategy to save money on child care in the past year, including reducing hours at work (42%), changing jobs (26%), or leaving the workforce completely (26%).
  • More than half of families (57%) spent over $10,000 on child care in 2020, and 59% plan to spend more than $10,000 in 2021.

While quality child care was in short supply before the pandemic, access is even more of a challenge for working parents now.

  • 46% of families say that finding available child care providers is more difficult now, compared to pre-pandemic. 
  • Of the families who relied on child care before the pandemic, 61% report that their provider is not yet fully open and operating, and 14% say their provider has reopened, but not fully.
    • 26% of residents in small town or rural areas are especially likely to say finding a provider is very difficult, compared to 10% who live in the suburbs, 15% who live in a small city and 11% who live in major cities. 
    • 20% of those located in the Western United States are most likely to have their child care provider permanently closed or unavailable post-pandemic. 

Lower income families face more challenges in finding quality care options.

Of those who have an annual household income of under $50K:

  • 19% say they find it difficult to find child care providers where they live.
  • 17% are more likely to have their child care provider closed permanently or unavailable post-pandemic. 

Families have had to make sacrifices in order to afford child care.

  • 94% of parents have used at least one major cost-saving strategy in the past year: 
    • 42% of parents have reduced hours at work. 
    • 26% have changed jobs. 
    • 26% have left the workforce entirely.
  • 89% of parents are considering at least one major cost-saving strategy in the upcoming year: 
    • 38% are considering reducing hours at work.
    • 27% are considering changing jobs. 
    • 24% are considering leaving the workforce entirely.

Without question, finding and affording quality child care remains a significant challenge for America’s working parents. However, this crisis was not created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now is the time to build an early learning system for children from birth through age five that ensures every family who needs it can find and afford the care options that work for them. Read about the recent proposals to address America’s child care crisis, including the American Families Plan, online here.

See the full results from the survey online here.

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