Oct. 15, 2018
Early learning is REALLY popular. How popular is it? It’s more popular than watching videos of cute puppies or even the Super Bowl.* There is good reason for this exceptional popularity. Exposure to high quality early learning experiences fosters the healthy development of young children with the added benefit of enabling parents to pursue careers. Child care is of such import, parents are motivated to vote for candidates who support making child care more accessible and affordable.
The Center for American Progress, Center for Community Change, Make It Work and GBA Strategies recently released the results of a survey of voter opinions about early learning. They surveyed 1,657 voters from across the nation to uncover attitudes about child care access, quality, and impact on parental workforce participation. The survey also gauged support for investments in early learning and candidates who support it. The findings are a resounding endorsement for early learning. Regardless of political affiliation or demographics, voters overwhelmingly support proposals to increase child care capacity, raise quality, and improve affordability.
Abundant support for child care may be driven by voters’ personal experience attempting to cobble together care arrangements for their children. Just over 70% of parents with children under 18 had trouble finding affordable, quality child care in their area. The problem is particularly acute for parents with children under age five. Eighty-three percent report difficulty accessing care. Lacking access to high-quality child care can deprive children of exposure to learning opportunities. It can also force parents to limit their careers to accommodate child care deficits. Nearly 80% of parents with children under age five report negative impacts on their careers including declining a job or promotion, reducing hours, or passing-up an opportunity to learn new skills. If parents gained access to reliable and affordable child care, the economic impact would benefit everyone. Survey respondents assert they would seek higher paying jobs, additional hours, a promotion, or training. For mothers who are not currently working, 20% report they would search for a job.
While an opinion survey is limited to measuring the hypothetical, these work participation findings are substantiated in a separate study about the impact of universal pre-K on maternal labor force participation in the District of Columbia. Over the last decade, DC has invested in voluntary, universal pre-kindergarten, enrolling approximately 90% of four year olds and 70% of three year olds. Two years of preschool not only enriched the lives of the enrolled children, but also created economic benefit for their parents. Access to preschool increased workforce participation by mothers of young children by 10%. The largest increase was for mothers living in poverty and single mothers. Workforce participation rates increased 15.2% for women living in poverty and 13.3% for single mothers. The DC exemplar proves that creating additional early learning supply to meet demand will improve workforce participation rates to the benefit of families and the local economy.
While DC leads the nation in access to pre-kindergarten, survey respondents from other parts of the country do not benefit from universal access to pre-K or child care. Driven by the high cost of child care and the desire to improve their professional station, Center for American Progress opinion survey respondents expressed overwhelming (77%) support for funding for child care. Respondents also expressed support for several specific child care proposals: Over 90% would improve quality and safety, 90% support the workforce earning a living wage, and over 80% would increase access to child care and voluntary pre-K. When respondents were asked to identify their top priority, they chose “[guaranteeing] child care assistance to low-income and middle-class families on a sliding scale based on household income”. The Center for American Progress’s bar graph reproduced below demonstrates the popularity of various proposals.
So, what can be done? Voters look to state and local government to find solutions and report being more likely to vote for someone who campaigns on early learning. Almost 70% of all voters report they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports child care while only 11% said it made them less likely to vote for a candidate. That includes 84% of Democrats, 62% of Independents, and 59% of Republicans. And, at the federal level, the Child Care for Working Families Act introduced by Senator Murray and Representative Scott in 2017 would amend the Child Care Development Block Grant to addresses issues of access, affordability, quality, and workforce preparation and would enable an estimated 1.6 million parents to join the workforce.
Survey results show that voters across the nation and across the political aisle are eager to support a significant investment in early care and education affordability and quality. And they are enthusiastic to cast their ballot in support of candidates willing to make these critical investments. Early learning advocates already count among our ranks military leaders, police officers, business owners, doctors, teachers, and economists. Now we can add the American voter. As you wait in line to cast your ballot, and three out of four of your fellow voters are watching videos of their dogs, feel emboldened knowing that an even greater number are joining in your support for affordable, high-quality early learning.
* A study from the Center for American Progress found that 77% of voters support funding for early learning, surpassing the 75% of pet parents who watch videos of their dog and the 68% of Americans who viewed the 2018 Super Bowl.