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America’s economic recovery from Covid-19 is in jeopardy because our leaders are neglecting the needs of a key sector: child care.

Without investment by state and federal leaders in child care, millions of American workers and thousands of small businesses will never get back on their feet. Before the pandemic, many families — especially those with lower incomes —  were already struggling to afford child care.

Thousands of small child care businesses in the United States will lose employees or close their doors forever without federal support.

Researchers have found that even before the pandemic, 70 percent of nonworking parents with children under 5 were staying home to take care of their children, rather than earning extra income for their families.  

Federal and state leaders’ failure to include the child care industry in our reopening strategy resulted in 336,000 child care workers losing their jobs this spring. The small businesses that employ them are key components of working communities.

Researchers have noted that when child care workers lose their jobs, they may create broader shifts in the labor market, affecting other working families who need qualified professionals to educate and care for their children.

We need to solve this problem now by treating child care as a priority of our economic recovery strategy.

Too many policymakers have not made the investment in the child care industry necessary for a strong economic recovery. At the federal level, the $3.5 billion investment prescribed for child care providers and workers in the CARES Act amounted to less than 15% of what the airline industry received.

All Americans, regardless of their political party, have a stake in seeing our child care industry succeed. Federal policymakers should start meeting with child care leaders about what they need to keep their doors open. Then, policymakers must swiftly move to share resources so child care centers can keep costs down for working families and our economy can get back in motion.

Our nation urgently needs a recovery vision that puts child care at the forefront, to support our working families and the thousands of child care workers  across the country. Failing to invest in early childhood providers now will result in a slower economic recovery, as workers have nowhere to send their children.

Barring swift federal and state intervention, enrollment in America’s early education programs may again become a luxury that too many families cannot afford. If that happens, those families will suffer and more small businesses around the country will close their doors forever.

As governor of Michigan, I invested in child care and dramatically increased pre-K availability through large budget increases in related areas of more than $150 million annually. To make it easier for families to find providers for their children, in 2011 I created the Office of Great Start to organize the state’s various early childhood initiatives.

I worked with the Great Start Parent Coalitions to disseminate materials about early childhood programs so parents didn’t have to waste precious time finding quality programs for their children. Other state leaders and I also supported providers in keeping their doors open through more than 2,400 Great Start to Quality Participation Bonuses.

Federal and state policymakers need to do what we did in Michigan and listen to the voices of parents and child care providers before it is too late.  All Americans have a stake in seeing our child care industry succeed. Policymakers must swiftly move to share resources so child care centers can keep costs down for working families and our economy can get back in motion.

Parents and business owners rely on child care to make working or providing jobs possible. We cannot let the president or Congress forget the needs of families as they move to reopen the economy.

Rick Snyder served as the 48th governor of Michigan from 2011 to 2019.

This Op-Ed about child care was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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