The new school year has started. Usually it is a happy time as it marks a new beginning for the students and their families. Obviously, this school is ushering in a huge departure from the usual.
The consequences of the pandemic of knowing if our children will be safe, if they could become carriers, if they will be able to study at a distance are discouraging. Although it is not in itself a back-to-school problem, accommodation for preschool children is also important. It has since the start of the pandemic and raises both short and long term questions
As the pandemic spread, many daycares were forced to reduce capacity, limit hours or even close. The implications for children and parents are many, not to mention those for center owners and operators. A challenge before Covid-19 was and continues to be ability. Data is not available to summarize the number of locations in Benton and Franklin counties. But the current time slots are likely to be fewer than in January of this year.
Benton Franklin Trends features an indicator that sheds light on child care use here. The attached chart shows that the share of 3- and 4-year-olds attending preschool has consistently been lower than the state and US figures.
For the most recent year, 2018, about 40% of children this age attended preschool, compared to 47% in Washington and 48% in the United States.
Still, the trend is in the right direction. Almost 15 years ago, only 23% of this age group was enrolled. It will take about a year before the estimates for 2020 are released. My hunch is that the metro region’s share will show a decline, as will its state and country counterparts.
A second challenge of the pandemic is the ability of parents to pay for child care. As vendors try to cut costs, it is a business of people and now affected by state minimum wage increases. Most young families have incomes below the median, and preschool costs can represent a significant portion of family income.
Economists from the OECD, an organization providing data and analysis for 26 developed countries, including the United States, published a survey of gross costs of care, as a percentage of average annual salary, in 2017.
Specifically, economists measured the share of two children aged 2 to 3 attending daycare full time. The United States ranks slightly above the OECD average at 31%. Canada’s share was somewhat higher, but the country with the highest share of wages paid for by childcare was Switzerland, at 70%. Most of the countries of the European Union have shares below the OECD average, notably Germany with 10% and the Nordic countries even lower.
The comparison becomes more interesting, however, when government policies are taken into account.
As some may know, most OECD countries subsidize child care in one form or another. These policies reduce the share of the average annual salary spent on childcare costs. The net costs for OECD countries have fallen from around 28% to 15% overall. Switzerland’s share fell by more than half and Germany and the Nordic countries fell by a few percentage points. Yet the United States’ net share barely budges.
How does this discussion relate to an economic recovery from the pandemic?
For low-income parents who have jobs that require work outside the home, absolutely. Child care may not be an option for their preschoolers. Therefore, quitting a job may be the likely course of action. Middle- or high-income parents might be able to work from home or at least pay for preschool.
The health of preschools is likely to have long-term implications for the workforce. If families cannot afford to pay for kindergarten, labor force participation, especially of women, will decline.
In fact, it was the entry into the labor force of millions of women in the 1980s that increased the size of the labor force and, consequently, the economic performance of the United States. And if the workforce, both in quality and quantity, is a determining factor for the expansion or attraction of businesses, the metropolitan area will be at a disadvantage compared to communities where childcare is more widely available. used.
The very long-term and probably the most important effects of inadequate child care lie on the child himself. Numerous studies, including those by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, have highlighted the critical role played by early learning and development. Of course, some families are able to pass these skills on at home, but many parents simply don’t have the knowledge or the resources to do home schooling.
So finding solutions to adequate and affordable child care will have repercussions that will continue for many, many years to come. Is the current 40% share of preschool children adequate? I’ll leave that to the community discussion. For now, let’s hope the pandemic hasn’t stopped preschool too much.
D. Patrick Jones is the Executive Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis at Eastern Washington University. Benton-Franklin Trends, the institutes’ project, uses local, state, and federal data to measure local economic, educational, and civic life in Benton and Franklin counties.
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