Summer Is A Reminder That We Must Address America’s Child Care Crisis

by Patty Murray
U.S. Senator Patty Murray

This month, as schools around the country break for the summer, some kids are preparing to spend their days at the pool with a babysitter, go away to summer camp, or enjoy time with their grandparents. But for far too many kids and their parents, a lack of affordable, high-quality child care turns summer into a stressful time. Though many parents struggle to find and afford before and afterschool care for their school-aged children year-round, having to find and afford full-day care during the summer is even more challenging.

Monica from Seattle is a pre-school teacher who has long struggled to afford child care for her two elementary school-aged children. Monica and her husband have been looking for summer care for her children since January without luck. She makes just enough to not qualify for state subsidies, but not enough to afford summer care.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

“I would have to pay my whole paycheck for summer camp,” Monica says. So Monica’s plan for the summer is to take her children—ages 8 and 9—to hide them inside a preschool while she teaches 3- and 4-year olds. Monica knows her kids’ peers will be going on field trips, doing science projects, playing outside, while her kids are cooped up, bored, and not learning. But Monica has no other options.

Across the United States, in communities big and small, situations like Monica’s are not the exception, they are the rule.

Summer care poses a unique challenge to parents because school calendars do not reflect the realities of being a working parent. During summer break, families must find full-day care for their children, navigating a field of programs that are often only partial-day, partial-week, or partial-summer.

If parents do manage to find a program without a waiting list, they then have to find a way to pay without sacrificing basic necessities. The average family is now spending $3,000 on summer care, and in ten states, families earning the median income are spending half of each summer paycheck on child care expenses. This is neither sustainable, nor acceptable.

While there are critical programs like the 21stCentury Community Learning Centers program helping parents afford high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities for their children, these programs don’t have the resources to reach every child and family. Every parent should be able to access to high-quality care that doesn’t break the bank.

In my home state of Washington, I’ve met families who are paying more per month for child care than housing, parents who have waited as long as five years to get off a waiting list, and countless moms and dads who are worrying whether their kids are safe and getting the best start to succeed.

That’s why last year, I introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bold, comprehensive bill to tackle some of the biggest challenges in child care today. To make child care affordable year-round, our bill would ensure no family has to pay more than they can afford for child care, whether that’s after-school care, summer care, or care during nontraditional hours for children birth through age 13. The bill would also expand access to high-quality preschool for three and four-year-olds to prepare our youngest learners for kindergarten and beyond. And to ensure we’re attracting and retaining the very best teachers, our bill would invest in the tireless caregivers looking after our children by providing better training and a living wage.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Currently, the lack of child care options keeps parents – most often mothers – out of the workforce, and perpetuates socioeconomic disparities in education. Research has found that during the summer, higher-income students make slight academic gains, while low-income students lose between two to three months of learning. Nearly 70% of the achievement gap between low- and high-income students can be attributed to this “summer slide.”

Passing the Child Care for Working Families Act would help put millions of families on the path to a better life, enable millions of women to advance upward in the workforce, and make meaningful progress toward closing gaps in student achievement. We have an economic imperative to act, but more importantly, we have a moral obligation to provide our children the chance to live a life better than our own.

Since the introduction of the Child Care for Working Families Act, it has earned the support of 31 co-sponsors in the Senate and 124 co-sponsors in the House. This is a great start, but we still have a long road ahead of us. We must keep fighting to make child care for all a reality, and when communities speak, we must do what they elected us to do: listen.