A new report, complete with recommendations to the Legislature, has been released by a statewide task force formed to address a lack of child care in Washington.
The report was penned by the Child Care Collaborative Task Force, which was formed in 2018 to recommend policies. Its mandate was extended through June 2021, with the goal of creating affordable and accessible child care for all Washingtonians by 2025. The report was delivered by the state Department of Commerce.
To put the issue into perspective, the state had an estimated 1.08 million children ages birth to 12, but in 2018 there was only enough space for around 178,700 children across the state, according to the report. This means there are fewer parents in the workforce, and more missed work, leading to lower productivity and lower economic gains.
Over the last five years, the state gained 3,000 child care spaces, but the population of children younger than 6 grew by almost 30,000, according to the report. There was consolidation too, with the number of child care providers shrinking.
A 2019 study estimated that a quarter of Washington parents with young kids had reduced to part-time work, and 18% quit due to child care issues. Employee turnover and missed work due to inaccessible child care was estimated at $2.08 billion in the state, according to the report.
Racial and ethnic disparities exist too. Last school year, only 40% of children of color arrived ready for kindergarten in the state’s six WaKIDS domains compared to 51% of white children. There’s a disparity of access to child care, preschool, health and other childhood services. Additionally, some 63% of Washingtonians live in a child care desert where capacity doesn’t meet demand.
In King County, child care providers dropped from more than 2,100 with space for 59,316 kids in 2013, compared to 1,939 providers with space for 63,846 kids by the end of 2017. But there are more than 127,500 kids younger than 5 countywide.
The report made 31 recommendations. These included suggestions to stabilize and support the child care workforce, providers and industry, increase employer supports for child care, streamline permitting and licensing and reduce disparities in child care.
The report found that part of the problem is found in the working conditions of child care employees, which are paid less than dog groomers on average. The report shows that early childhood education majors have the lowest projected lifetime earnings of all four-year college graduates.
Last year, 88% of the 529 child care providers in the state who were surveyed said low pay was a major reason it was hard to hire staff. More than 60% said their staff resigned from child care positions due to low pay. The report said offering staff health and dental insurance, retirement benefits, paid time off and other perks could help retain staff.
Less than half of Washington state child care providers said they give any of their employees health insurance, according to the report. Nearly 40 percent of early childhood educators and their families rely on public support programs like Medicaid and food stamps.