Middle-class families need quality child care to succeed

May 28th, 2019

By Marissa Christie and Jason Harris

From Bristol to New Britain, Levittown to Quakertown, our friends and neighbors are silently struggling to stay afloat financially, mistakenly believing they’re on their own. They are not alone. The struggle to afford even the basics in Bucks County is very real.

For many, basic costs have increased while their incomes have essentially remained flat. One of the most rapidly growing costs is child care. Child care costs for one toddler alone can run a family well over $11,000 per year in our county. To put an infant and a toddler in high-quality child care will cost a family around $27,000 per year. That’s a 30% increase since 2010.

The cost of child care is leaving even middle-class families with no breathing room in their budgets. A new report from Public Citizen for Children & Youth, “Underwater: What’s Sinking Families in Bucks County,” shows that even families who make up to $75,000 per year are likely to have just $50 left per week after covering child care and other necessities.

Difficulty covering child care costs stress families financially on the front end. It can also keep families from getting ahead. For instance, a mother turned to United Way of Bucks County because she could not afford child care. She was getting some help from family members, but it was not a permanent — or particularly reliable — solution. Every time a relative backed out, she missed work.

We were able to get her financial assistance. Thanks to safe, reliable, quality child care, she was able to be fully present at work, physically and mentally. She has almost tripled her income. As her income increases, her need for financial assistance decreases. She just needed a hand-up to get started.

But the importance of child care — and high-quality early childhood education more broadly — extends beyond a parent’s financial stability and a child’s safety. Access to high-quality child care and early education increases a child’s odds of success in school and in life.

And if helping families and children in our community isn’t compelling enough, there is also a financial imperative: Children who get high-quality early education are significantly less likely to need special education services when they enter kindergarten.

K-12 special education costs are growing rapidly in Pennsylvania, but state funding increases for special education have not kept pace with actual costs. For example, at Morrisville Borough School District, special education costs are expected to grow by $1.2 million this year. State funding will increase by just $25,000.

High-quality early education is one of the most effective ways to keep these special education costs, and in turn property taxes, down. The return on investment is realized quickly, and it just keeps growing. The good news is that the state has programs that help. Head Start, Child Care Subsidy and Pre-K Counts are publicly funded programs that help low- and moderate-income families with the cost of child care and pre-K education.

The bad news is that there is not nearly enough funding put towards these programs. Only one in four eligible children has access to Pre-K Counts or Head Start, and just 42% of eligible children receive subsidized child care. Funding matters for these essential programs.

It matters to us if a parent can get to work to support their family. It matters to us if a child is ready to succeed when they enter a Bucks County school. It matters because when we give people opportunities to succeed, all of Bucks County is better off.

Marissa Christie is president and CEO of United Way of Bucks County; Jason B. Harris is superintendent of schools, Morrisville Borough School District.

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