A Deeper Dive into Early Education and Care

May 31, 2017

Michelle Wu: City Councilor, At-Large
Annissa Essaibi George: City Councilor, At-Large
Ayanna Pressley: Congresswoman, and Former City Councilor, At-Large
Andrea Campbell: City Councilor, District Four

As the four women serving on the Boston City Council, we believe it is time to shine a spotlight on the state of early education and childcare in our city. Prior to serving on this body, each of us recognized our passion for helping marginalized communities in Boston and now our platform allows us to focus on developing and implementing progressive policies. The issue of affordable, accessible, and equitable childcare not only deserves our attention but demands it. Each of us come from differing backgrounds that provide us with four unique entry points into effecting positive change in early education and childcare.

In January 2017, Councilor Michelle Wu filed an order charging the Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Community to host policy briefings regarding early education and care, each with a different focus. The topics we are focusing on are: childcare for homeless families, community-based providers, childcare funding mechanisms, childcare for families with non-traditional work hours, the transition from early education and care to school, equity in geographic access to childcare, and on-site childcare in the workplace. While affordable childcare has become a new watchword in today’s politics, the details are frequently left untouched. Together we have identified four specific approaches to the issue that we will actively explore via an open dialogue with the City’s community. They include accessibility of childcare, citywide on-site childcare, childcare for the homeless, and community-based childcare.

Quality childcare is essential for development.

While policy makers often put significant weight on the importance of traditional education through public or private schools, there is not enough emphasis on the impact of early childcare on the developmental trajectory of Boston’s youth. High quality care is positively related with better cognitive, social, and emotional development in children, which in turn impacts school readiness and academic performance. The high turnover and relatively low wages characteristic of childcare centers is not conducive to the type of care the City’s children need to thrive. Here there is not only room, but dear need, for workforce development and career opportunities for Boston’s early childcare providers.

Affordable childcare is essential for the economic stability of families, particularly women.

The cost of childcare in Massachusetts is exorbitant – we are the second most expensive state in the country. Suffolk County, in particular, offers some of the least affordable infant care in the Commonwealth. Boston is the largest economic hub in Massachusetts and we want to make it possible for families to stay in Boston and participate in the economy. However, economic growth, stability, and opportunity will become unfeasible for those who call Boston their home if we cannot expand access and improve the quality of our childcare system.

According to Childcare Aware of America, the annual cost of infant care in Massachusetts is $17,082 for center-based care and $10,679 for home-based care. These numbers become especially staggering when put in terms of income percentage. For married families with two children, a year of center-based childcare amounts to 24.8% of the family’s annual income. Yet two parents signing away a fourth of their income is nothing compared to the challenges faced by single parents. For a single parent with two children, the cost of center-based care consumes a whopping 107.3% of their annual income. It is simply unsustainable for most families to access early education and care.

Nationally, families with incomes at or below the poverty line can expect to spend 30.1% of their income on childcare. When the burden of childcare poses this large of a financial strain, parents may be forced to take time off of work or leave the workforce altogether in order to care for their children. This essentially freezes their economic mobility and their opportunities to find work. Access to early education and care for families experiencing homelessness is a particularly distressing situation. There are thousands of children on waiting lists for vouchers and other resources for childcare and early education. This lack of resources contributes to families remaining trapped in cycles of poverty. There are great organizations doing this work, like Horizons for Homeless Children, as highlighted by our first policy briefing hosted by Councilor Essaibi-George at Horizons for Homeless Children’s facilities.

Due to a persisting wage gap and other factors, women are more likely to be the parent that takes time off work for caregiving. On average, women in Massachusetts make 83 cents for every dollar earned by a white, non-Hispanic male. This pay ratio is even worse for women of color. Asian women make 80 cents to the dollar, Native American women make 63 cents to the dollar, African American women make 61 cents to the dollar, and Latina women make 50 cents to the dollar. Additionally, motherhood continues to be treated as a detriment in US workplaces. Providing more sustainable childcare options can help in mitigating this motherhood penalty.

The benefit of on-site childcare is not fully recognized.  

In part, the notion of quality childcare is tethered to proximity and access to one’s children. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience on-site childcare in the workplace recognize the tremendous benefit afforded by the ability to commute to and from work with your child, as well as being able to visit them during lunch and effortlessly check in should any problems arise. In 2010, only 7% of US companies offered on-site childcare. Employers face undue financial hardship when benefits or childcare options are not robust enough and employees leave in pursuit of more sustainable options. Economics aside, being physically close to your child is treated as a luxury when instead it should be a standard practice. We aim to bring some amount of on-site childcare to every workplace in Boston.

Community-based childcare is a model worth exploring for parents with nontraditional work hours.  

Although on-site childcare is one favorable option, it will not provide solutions for those who work in fields with nontraditional hours. Parents with nontraditional work hours often have immense difficulty in identifying reliable, trustworthy care, largely due to the fact that less than a third of home-based childcare—and less than a tenth of center-based childcare—is provided during evenings and weekends. For these parents, we now look to community-based childcare systems where the hours and days of operation should be increasingly flexible. This model of childcare also exposes children to a wider spectrum of ages and nurtures a sense of communal learning and involvement for them.

And although community based providers of early education and care are critical parts of the overall system, this workforce faces unique challenges.  There is a persistent gap in pay between teachers providing pre-K in local school districts such as Boston Public Schools and those in community or home based organizations. Our policy briefings are looking at strategies to unlock the potential of these small business owners who have dedicated their lives to education and development of our children and supporting their professional development.

We hope you will check the City of Boston Public Notices website for upcoming policy briefings both inside City Hall and out in the communities. We invite the public to join us and share their challenges, ideas, strategies and hopes for early education and care in the city. Affordable, quality childcare is critical and necessary for the healthy development of our youth, economic stability of our families, and upward mobility of our economy. We hope you will join us.