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Elliot’s provocations: “Lose your job, lose your child care.”

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Haspel, E.
Publication Date: 
5 Mar 2024



Instead of “lose your job, lose your health care,” the equation is “lose your job, lose your child care.” In some ways, this latter situation is even worse—at least for parents and children, as job lock is favorable from an employer perspective—for two reasons. First, there is no equivalent of Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) or the Affordable Care Act marketplaces for employees to rely on for bridge coverage; instead, parents are thrust immediately into the failed child care market where supply is often nil and waitlists can be months to years long. Second, young children thrive on caregiver reliability and their development is mediated through trusted relationships; multiple transitions in child care settings is correlated with increased risk for behavioral problems and other negative outcomes.


The answer, as I have been emphasizing, is not to do away with on-site child care centers or suggest employers end any existing child care benefits. The answer is to wrap on-site programs and tuition stipends into a publicly-funded system, one where slots are affordable and not tied to specific ongoing employment. Some employer-sponsored programs already hint at what this can look like by allowing community members to access a certain percentage of slots: as a personal example, my children attended a child care center owned by the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System despite neither my spouse nor I being employed there.

Unfortunately, policymakers are either not fully aware of, or else not compelled by, the dangers of employer-linked child care. Many states are currently falling over themselves to offer incentives to businesses using tens of millions of dollars in tax credits and grants, giving into the temptation of punting a public policy problem to the private sector. The other action to be taken is for states (and the federal government) to hit the brakes on these incentives. The taxpayer funds would reach far more families in a far more sustainable fashion by building toward an inclusive system with many types of strong, well-funded programs.

Similarly, employer energy would be far better used to forcefully advocate for an effective child care system that will help not only their employees, but the community and nation writ large. This may sound far-fetched, but we have examples. Vermont’s business community loudly fought for a small payroll tax to enhance the state’s child care system, while the group ReadyNation organizes a coalition of business executives to advocate for a publicly-funded system. (At minimum, businesses can choose to not actively oppose child care investments, which they have done with the Build Back Better Act and many state tax proposals.)