By Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary, Administration for Children and Families
Today, more Americans are working than ever before. Virtually every demographic is achieving historic low unemployment rates. As the Trump Administration’s policies continue to fuel economic growth, we’ve seen millions of Americans come off the sidelines and rejoin the workforce. In fact, job openings (7.2 million) have exceeded the number of job seekers (6 million) for well over a year.
To most people, this is great news – who doesn’t want a strong economy? But employers are desperate for workers. The inability to fill open jobs is the number one challenge across many sectors of our economy. Meanwhile, there are still thousands of workers, here in our communities, who want to join in and contribute, but face a critical shortfall. I’m talking, of course, about one of the single greatest barriers to economic mobility facing American families today: access to affordable, high-quality child care.
As Assistant Secretary of HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF), I can say unequivocally that one of our most pressing challenges is supporting working families as they raise their young children, while balancing home life and work. Presently, the cost of center-based child care for two children, an infant and a 4 year old, exceeds home mortgage costs in 35 states and D.C., and annual median rental payments in every state. However, child care is more than just a major expense for families - it’s also a significant barrier to work.
Let me be clear: Caring for children in the home is a noble vocation, and that choice and work should be celebrated for its importance. At the same time, for parents who choose to or must work for compensation, obtaining child care is often a prerequisite for entering and advancing in the workforce. It’s not only a key issue for families, but for businesses and communities, too. A lack of reliable child care options can lead to reduced productivity for workers, increased absenteeism, and difficulty recruiting and retaining high-value employees.
It is precisely because of these barriers that Congress saw fit to pass the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, which we at ACF administer each year. These funds not only help offset the cost of care for low-income working parents who are trying to move up the economic ladder, but also supports quality improvements that impact children across the country.
Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, funding for the child care block grant has increased by a record forty percent – the largest expansion in the program’s history. ACF is proud to play such a pivotal role in the lives of America’s working families. Despite this progress, we recognize there is still plenty of work left to do.
As the economy changes, child care must adapt as well. After all, child care supports both present and future generations of the workforce - which is precisely why we must get it right.
Recently, ACF set out on a roundtable listening tour across the country to hear directly from the public, including parents, employers, teachers, providers, state and local officials, and even charities, about the challenges they face surrounding access and affordability of child care. So far, we’ve had tremendous feedback from stakeholders, and we’re continuing to learn more at each roundtable.
The information and feedback we collect during these roundtables will be used to inform federal policy proposals, research, technical assistance, and legislation to help us expand access to affordable, quality child care. We have also published a Request for Information in the Federal Register in order to obtain more information from the public about the ways we can help working families access high-quality child care.
President Trump has made working families a focus of this administration. We want to offer mothers and fathers more choice and flexibility with child care, so they can choose how to balance home and work life in a way that best serves their needs, benefits their children, and allows them to fully participate in our economy. ACF is committed to supporting the President’s vision by strengthening our partnerships with states and local governments and public and private organizations across the country to increase access to high-quality child care. By making that investment today, we will ensure the flourishing of the next generation while meeting the needs of working parents and the businesses that seek to employ them.