Helping parents cover high cost of child care benefits families and our economy

I’m supportive of the efforts of any politician from any party who supports helping families. It’s past time that politicians from both sides of the aisle come together to do so.

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A 2014 file photo of Delia’s Daycare teachers and students in Waukegan.

A 2014 file photo of Delia’s Daycare teachers and students in Waukegan.

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It’s time the government takes more action to address the cost of child care.

Child care has become so expensive that parents are being forced to quit their jobs to care for their children, contributing to the labor shortage and costing the government billions in lost income and sales tax revenue, according to a new study from the Council for a Strong America and the business group ReadyNation.

The study found the economy is losing out on an estimated $122 billion a year, and that not having child care, or inadequate child care, costs individual parents more than $5,000 a year — more than $78 billion in total. For businesses, the cost is $1,640 for each working parent in lost revenue and hiring costs, adding up to $23 billion annually.

The government also loses income and sales tax revenue, to the tune of $21 billion, or $1,450 per working parent, because parents without enough child care earn less and therefore buy less.

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The study also found that 85% of primary caregivers said child care challenges are cutting into their work hours or productivity, causing them to be late for work, miss days and be distracted on the job. One-third of working parents have switched from full-time to part-time hours, while 26% of parents reported quitting a job due to child care problems and 23% reported getting fired, the study found.

There’s also the fact that some parents, usually low-income parents, cannot afford to miss work and end up leaving their children with non-suitable relatives, like an older sibling or elderly grandparent. Kids in such situations may end up giving in to the temptations of peer pressure or even gang activity, at a high cost to their lives and adding millions to the costs of our legal system.

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To confront this crisis, some companies are allowing working parents to work different shifts, and some have begun to provide pre-tax dependent care spending accounts. But only a small percentage of employers are doing so. And unfortunately, while the tax savings from such accounts can help, they were capped at $5,000 in 2022, below the median cost of child care, according to the human resources association World at Work.

Congress rejected a chance to help parents by refusing to extend the pandemic-era child tax credit in 2022. That program, which sent monthly checks of $300 per child under 6 and $250 per child over 6 to most families with children, led to a record decline in child poverty last year.

Critics considered the monthly payments an expensive welfare scheme that would deter parents from working, but supporters cite evidence from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows the payments lowered families’ financial hardship and benefitted children without reducing parental employment.

The issues involved here haven’t gone away. In President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this month, he called on Republicans to join him in providing families with child care, paid leave, child tax credits and affordable housing.

While these benefits have typically been championed by Democrats, a number of conservative members of Congress have begun to embrace the idea of new benefits for parents. Their reasons seem to vary, from wanting to make their party more family-friendly to the view that supporting families is a pragmatic way to prop up conservative values like marriage and family, as the New York Times has reported. Both parties are still deeply divided over whether benefits should be tied to work requirements.

Whatever the reason, I’m supportive of the efforts of any politician from any party who wants to help families. It’s past time that politicians from both sides of the aisle come together to do so.

Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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