Massachusetts parents face a big-ticket item: child care.
The Boston Globe recently looked at this challenge in its series “The Cutting Edge of the Common Good.”
“About 70,000 babies will be born in Massachusetts next year. Their parents are probably already fretting about how to pay for college. But finding affordable child care over the next four years will prove far more daunting and — for far too many — more expensive,” the Globe writes.
“The Commonwealth has the most expensive child care in the country. Parents of infants pay, on average, about $17,000 a year for a spot at a day-care center — in other words, $6,000 more than in-state college tuition, according to a new report by the advocacy group Child Care Aware. For single parents, this represents 61 percent of their income.”
“There is an urgency to this problem,” the Globe adds, “because the benefits of safe and reliable child care compound over a lifetime. Among educators and policy makers, the consensus is nearly unanimous that early childhood education reaps meaningful learning and socio-emotional results, particularly for low-income kids. Less discussed is how it can empower families and the economy.”
“Affordable universal child care from birth to kindergarten is the best way to support children and their families during this critical period of physical, neurological, and emotional development.”
Governors also recognize the need. And states are heeding this call by investing more money in preschool quality and access. But there’s more work to do, especially in Massachusetts both because of high child costs and to keep as many parents as possible engaged in our economy.
Pointing to an international example of child care investment — a “drastic intervention” in the Canadian province of Quebec — the Globe says, “Alongside more generous parental leave, extended school hours, and full-day kindergarten, its leaders today spend about $1.8 billion a year in reduced-fee child care starting as soon as parents return to work. The objective was to have a day-care spot for every child in the province who needed one. And every family, regardless of income or child’s age, would pay the same low amount: $3.75 per day, or about $975 annually.”
“Sixty-four percent of children now attend day care in Quebec, twice the rate of other provinces…There is higher employment and thus higher income tax revenue. Meanwhile, welfare payments have been reduced.”
In its conclusion, the Globe makes a vital historic and educational argument. The bold emphasis is ours:
“In the ruins of the Great Depression, the United States made a commitment to its retirees through the establishment of Social Security. It was a promise to help people who could no longer work. That program wiped out poverty among the elderly, which is now below 8 percent. Today, 21 percent of children under age 6 — more than one in five — live in poverty. If their parents are unable to work, they can fall further behind. Without a solid start, safety nets risk becoming spiderwebs. Families at every income level would benefit from subsidized child care, but poorest families perhaps the most. And that would be an investment in the nation’s future. Massachusetts should lead the way.”