On September 20th, 2023, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee hosted a hearing entitled “Childcare Since the Pandemic: Macroeconomic Impacts of Public Policy Measures.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) lead the meeting, joined by Senator John Kennedy (R-LA). Senator Warren started with how broken the childcare system in the United States is following the COVID-19 pandemic. Many childcare providers were forced to shut down and most federal childcare relief expires at the end of this month. Analysts estimate that this could result in another round of centers closing, resulting in lost jobs, lost care for children, and lost workers as parents-primarily mothers- are forced out of the workforce.
J. Glen Hopkins, the president of Hopkins house, a childcare center in Arlington VA, Sarah Hardy, the cofounder and COO of Bobbie, an infant formula manufacturing company, and Dr. Katheryn Anne Edwards, an economist who studies labor markets, served as witnesses for the hearing.
According to Hopkins, Hopkins House saw a drop in enrollment and available funds during Covid. Pandemic expenses like masks and cleaners set them back, and government funding is the only reason they were able to keep their doors open. Childcare professionals are underpaid, making an average of just $13 an hour, which is less than half of the overall national average. This does not adequately reflect the essential role that the childcare industry plays in the American economy.
Sarah Hardy underscored the importance of affordable, high-quality childcare for the American workforce. Taking action on childcare ensures that parents can continue to work in an economy that is experiencing an increasing labor demand. She explained that by supporting parents at Bobbie, their workforce became more affective and fulfilled.
Dr. Edwards brought an economic perspective, explaining that reducing childcare diminishes the American workforce. She described privatized childcare as a market failure, and the lack of affordability and availability as a large roadblock in the labor force. This isn’t the kind of market that a miracle technological innovation is coming to replace. Kids need well trained, qualified people to care for them, and a computer cannot replicate that. When the funding expires, as many as three million mothers may be forced to stop working. The end of federal support for childcare means a slow deterioration of the labor force.
Senator John Kennedy echoed the concerns for the workforce but qualified them by asking the witnesses where they believed the money for federal childcare funding should come from. Hopkins asked for a change in language, saying that childcare funding is an investment in the next generation, and something that the government would see returns on as the children grow up and as their parents continue to contribute to the workforce. Dr. Edwards said that it would likely have to come from a raise in taxes. Ultimately, the witnesses all agreed that childcare is imperative for the future success of the economy, and funding for it should be prioritized.
By Rebekah Lawatsch, Policy Intern