New York City

OPINION: It’s time for a child care revolution

June 21, 2019 Scott M. Stringer
It's time for a bigger local investment in child care. Image via Pexels

The cost of living in New York City continues to outstrip incomes, and for too many New Yorkers, the dream of raising a family is getting harder to achieve. Our city’s affordability crisis is fueled by many factors, but the cost of child care — which can be over $21,000 a year for an infant — is one major, underappreciated driver.

With average costs surpassing college tuition and median rent, quality child care is unaffordable for most families, forcing parents to deplete savings, take on debt, and cut back on work — or forgo work altogether. And for parents with low incomes, the stakes are even higher.

Right now, a single mother with a full-time $15 minimum-wage job would have to spend over two-thirds of her income for a market-rate slot in a child care center, leaving her with less than $850 a month for rent, to put food on the table, pay medical bills, and meet other basic needs. The math simply doesn’t add up, and there’s little financial assistance to help solve the equation. Only 7 percent of families with infants and toddlers in the city get any government support to offset the costs now.

Yet it’s not just the cost that is so burdensome on families, it’s also the lack of services. Many New Yorkers can attest that finding a slot can be an exercise in frustration. That’s because half of our city’s neighborhoods are “child care deserts,” areas where there is limited or no access to child care centers and family day cares.

In 11 communities citywide, seven of which are right here in Brooklyn, there are more than 10 times as many infants as there are available child care spaces. In Bushwick, Crown Heights South, Prospect Lefferts and Wingate, there is no center-based capacity for infants at all. And across communities in southern Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Canarsie, there is a dearth of child care space for our infants.

We have to do better.

Achievement gaps and inequality don’t start in kindergarten or pre-K, but rather at birth. Research shows that 80 percent of brain development occurs before the age of 3, so it is imperative that we break down barriers for our youngest New Yorkers during these critical years, for every child, in every ZIP code, to succeed.

That’s why I proposed NYC Under 3 to deliver the largest local investment in child care in the United States for families with children under age 3 and to bring the child care bill down to zero for families who need the most support.

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Because in the richest city in the richest country in the world, every family should have access to quality affordable child care. Together with Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Manhattan State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Brooklyn Assemblymember Latrice Walker, we’re proud to have introduced legislation to make this transformational investment possible.

NYC Under 3 would triple the number of infants and toddlers in publicly funded care from about 23,000 to 84,000 and empower roughly 20,000 parents — mostly mothers — to join or re-enter the workforce, injecting an additional $540 million dollars a year in wages to our city’s economy.

That kind of investment would fundamentally change the math for families citywide and be a boon for business by delivering an eight-to-one return on investment. But most importantly, investing in child care will bring relief to working families and give our kids the brightest future possible.

Let’s open every door so that every family has a fair and fighting chance to make it here by leveling the playing field and providing real access to quality, affordable child care.

Scott M. Stringer is the New York City Comptroller.

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