By Kristin Schumacher
Parents with low- and moderate-incomes often struggle to stay afloat, balancing the soaring cost of child care against the high price of housing and other expenses. California’s subsidized child care and development programs, which are funded by both the state and federal governments, help many families make ends meet and allow them to avoid difficult choices about where to leave their children while at work. Yet, seven years after the end of the Great Recession, these programs as a whole continue to operate at below pre-recession levels, with inflation-adjusted funding well down from 2007-08 levels due to state budget cuts. This means that far fewer families with low and moderate incomes receive subsidized child care today than before the Great Recession began in 2007.
There is tremendous unmet need in California for subsidized child care. In 2015, an estimated 1.5 million children from birth through age 12 were eligible for care, according to a Budget Center analysis of federal survey data. However, only 218,000 children were enrolled in programs that could accommodate families for more than a couple of hours per day and throughout the entire year (see chart). Child care subsidies provide job stability and have been shown to increase parents’ earnings. Subsidies also allow families to afford higher-quality child care where their children can learn and grow. Boosting support for families struggling to afford child care is critical, especially given that the cost of child care and nursery school nationally has outpaced overall inflation since the end of the Great Recession. In California, more than two out of three families with children who are living in poverty include someone who is working. Yet, in 2015 the cost of child care for an infant and school-age child in a licensed center was equal to 99 percent of the annual income for a single mother and two children living at the federal poverty line ($19,096).