For far too many of our New Jersey families, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the crisis of childcare and its effects on both our household economies and our state’s economy.
While some parents were able to work from home — juggling professional responsibilities with childcare duties — many others had to leave home to work, while leaving their children unattended. Faced with this brutal choice, it is no surprise that so many parents dropped out of the workforce altogether.
It should come as no shock that this burden disproportionately affected mothers. In January of 2021, 1.6 million fewer women with school-aged children were actively working than the previous January. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted in late 2020 found that 30% of the working mothers interviewed had taken time off from work due to child care or school closures. A childcare crisis that had already taken root long before the pandemic reached epic proportions over the last eighteen months.
I saw my neighbors in Woodbridge struggling to juggle professional responsibilities while caring for children whose daycare centers had closed due to the pandemic. I heard from friends who had to quit work because they could not leave their children unattended at home. And I pledged to do everything I could to help these families get back on their feet, so that we could get our state’s economy back on its feet.
This is why I fought to ensure that our state budget allocates $100 million toward a Childcare Revitalization Fund, which will move expeditiously to get childcare services back on track. This money will ensure that licensed childcare centers, decimated by the pandemic, will have the opportunity to recover and reopen in time for the start of the school year in September. It addresses the labor shortage by incentivizing hiring and increasing wages for childcare workers. It will, crucially, ensure that these centers will not have to hike rates in order to survive, which would have prevented so many families from accessing childcare services.
The goal is simple: get childcare centers reopened as quickly and responsibly as possible so that parents can feel confident that their children are receiving the care and services they need while they are at work.
Let’s be clear: despite the myriad advances professional women have made over the course of my lifetime, childcare still falls disproportionately on the shoulders of mothers. It is women, not men, who have been driven out of the workforce during this pandemic. And it is women who will not return until we provide their children with safe, affordable childcare.
For far too long, even before the pandemic, women have had to make heartbreaking calculations between the cost of professional advancement and the cost of childcare. Far too many mothers have had to consider whether it makes more sense financially for them to drop out of the workforce altogether than to have their salaries eaten up by the cost of childcare.
The pandemic made this already untenable situation even worse. Through no choice of their own, too many women have had to leave the workforce or drastically cut down on their professional responsibilities to unexpectedly become teachers and childcare providers. It is a soul-crushing construct — professionally, physically and psychologically.
This is not an abstract line item in yet another state budget. It is funding that will deliver real, tangible benefits for millions of New Jerseyans. It is, by no means, a silver bullet in solving our longtime national childcare crisis but it is a start — and a start that I commit to building upon.
The Childcare Revitalization Fund is a down payment on the future: the future of parents, the future of their children and the future of our state’s economy. It is recognition that the burden that parents, and particularly mothers, have had to shoulder during this pandemic is untenable. And it is a commitment to ensuring that we do everything we can to provide real relief for those who cared for our families during this brutal time.
New Jersey General Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin represents the 19th Legislative District, which includes parts of Middlesex County.
Read the opinion piece from Speaker Coughlin, published by NJ.com on July 6, 2021 here.