Op-Ed: Better Child Care Options Will Benefit Both Parents and Employers

Hugh Welsh, Douglas Satterfield | March 19, 2019 | Opinion
Calling on state lawmakers to address the critical lack of affordable, high-quality child care in New Jersey

Hugh Welsh & Douglas Satterfield
If your career has been jeopardized because you’ve struggled to find good child care, you’re not alone. Many people have quit their jobs or have been punished at work because of a lack of affordable, high-quality child care for their children. This puts our kids at risk and has long-term effects on our citizenry, our communities, and our national interests.

As a business person and as a retired brigadier general, we’re calling on state lawmakers to address this crisis here in New Jersey for the sake of our workforce and national security.

Here’s why. Gov. Phil Murphy recently announced a budget that includes a $15 million increase in child care funding that will, among other things, create new incentives to make child care more readily available. While this is certainly good for working parents, it’s also great news for employers who face lower productivity and revenues when parents have trouble finding child care, and high costs to replace staff who quit because of child care problems. Nationwide, they’re losing about $13 billion every year.

It’s also good news to New Jersey’s military leaders, who are grappling with the fact that about 69 percent of our state’s young adults cannot qualify for military service because of educational shortcomings, poor health, or a record of crime or drug abuse. Research spotlighted by Mission: Readiness shows that brain development during the first few years of a child’s life can impact these outcomes, which is why 750 retired admirals and generals have been encouraging lawmakers to expand child care options.

Congress did take one step to address the problem last year by essentially doubling funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This made it possible for New Jersey to receive about $38 million to help low-income working parents afford child care so they can hold on to their jobs or attend job training or an educational program.

Making it more affordable for more families

This is a significant portion of our workforce — representing people working in retail, hospitality, construction and other fields that demand a lot but don’t pay nearly enough to cover the cost of infant and toddler child care. Congress should continue that increased investment this year and find additional ways to make high-quality child care more affordable for more of these families.

Lawmakers here in New Jersey must also do more, first by supporting the governor’s proposal but also by finding other ways to expand opportunities for high quality child care. The stakes are especially high for the 46 percent of our state’s residents who live in what is known as “child care deserts” because there are so few places where care is available.

Lawmakers must also find ways to protect the financial stability of New Jersey’s child care providers, who will struggle to afford staff once the recently passed $15-an-hour minimum wage goes into effect.

Representing 20 top business leaders in New Jersey, and 2,300 nationwide, ReadyNation notes these measures will improve the labor pool by enabling more parents to work without worrying about the well-being of their kids. Military leaders recognized this decades ago as they set out to create child care and an early education system that enables about 200,000 children of service members to experience high-quality child care and preschool programs while their moms and dads serve our country.

Parents in the military with combined incomes of $57,000 pay a little over $5,000 a year for each child — far less than the almost $13,000 the parents of an infant will probably pay for private center-based care in New Jersey.

That’s a good deal for our service member families — and a good model for the kind of early care and education investment that will drive our state’s economy and security forward in the years to come.