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Americans are going to work. Since the summer of 2011, nearly eight million more Americans in their “prime” working years, between the ages 25 and 54, have gained employment. If Americans wish to further foster this progress, it is important to understand the critical role that child care plays in boosting our nation’s economy.

One sign of how important child care is for employers and employees alike is that, by one estimate, businesses nationwide lose more than $4.4 billion a year due to employee absences resulting from breakdowns in child care arrangements.

Parents who struggle to find reliable child care may be limited in the hours they can work or the jobs they can perform. And research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that lowering the costs of child care paid by parents significantly increases the likelihood that a mother will work.

Related: Wealthy cities can afford to expand pre-K: What about everyone else?

Mothers, who typically bear the brunt of parental child care responsibilities, are a significant part of our workforce. Across the United States, more than 18 million families with children under the age of 12 include a mother who works or is looking for work. Even among mothers with small children, most participate in the workforce. Last year, roughly two-thirds of women with children under the age of 6 were in the nation’s labor force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that economic contribution depends on the availability of — and access to — child care, often purchased from one of the nation’s 675,000 market-based child care providers. The result is that more than half of all children from birth to age 5 spend more than 10 hours per week in the care of someone other than their parents. Given the research on the impact of adult interactions on a child’s development in those key years from birth to age 5, early-learning providers play a crucial role in helping build the foundation for success in a young child’s life.

Child care isn’t only a means to providing parents with the option of work.

By enabling more parents to find or keep jobs and balance work with their family responsibilities, child care also unlocks an important source of talent for U.S. employers. Plus, it is an important industry.

Related:  How you talk to your child might make them smarter

Over 1.5 million Americans are paid for work related to child care, and the nation’s child care sector as a whole is estimated to generate direct revenues and support for additional education and work that, taken together, are worth more than $99 billion annually.

Those findings, drawn from the report “Child Care in State Economies” (published by the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board), help highlight the vital role that child care plays in facilitating the work of parents as well as strengthening the American workforce.

With so many children spending significant time in non-parental care, it is clear that access to affordable, high-quality child care matters not just for today’s workers and employers, but also for the healthy development and school readiness of the country’s next generation of workers and citizens.

This story about child care and the U.S. economy was produced by  The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Cindy Cisneros is vice president of education programs at the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board.

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