This blog is part of a series on the impact that COVID-19 has had on the child care industry and children and families in Onslow County.
Like most communities across the United States, Onslow County is in the midst of a child care crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As families and child care providers have struggled to stay afloat, the national and state economy has been severely impacted.
The most recent data shows that 68 percent of children in Onslow County were living in a child care desert. While almost all child care centers have reopened in the past year, they are running at dramatically reduced enrollment, and unable to accommodate the thousands of families who need steady child care. Although there are more than 17,000 children under the age of 5 in Onslow County, as of March 2021, there are only 5,810 slots available.
This dearth in child care has not only impacted children and families—but the child care workforce and the greater Onslow County economy as a whole. To rebuild the North Carolina economy, parents must be able to return to the workforce with the knowledge that they can access safe and affordable child care without paying exorbitant amounts or struggling with public transportation.
North Carolina: A Microcosm of the National Child Care Crisis
Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, 44 have 50 percent or more of children living in child care deserts. A recent report surveying more than 800 North Carolina families found fewer than 1 in 3 parents of young children have had access to quality, affordable child care during the pandemic. Experts anticipate that this lack of available child care will only continue to worsen, with the Center for American Progress predicting that there will only be one child care spot for every four children in North Carolina as a result of COVID-19.
But this scarcity of affordable, accessible child care is not new. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tenuous industry has been on the brink of collapse for years and the potential fallout goes well beyond the impact on children, families, and early educators—it extends to our economy’s long-term health and sustainability.
The consequences of insufficient child care in the United States pose a dire economic impact, affecting nearly everyone in the country. It is estimated that, prior to the pandemic, the lack of child care options resulted in an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue in the United States. In North Carolina alone, insufficient child care cost businesses and taxpayers approximately $2.4 billion in lost revenue; in December 2020, that number has increased to $2.9 billion and experts believe it will continue to skyrocket as the pandemic and the child care crisis continues.
Children, families, and early educators are not the only ones who will bear the brunt of the child care crisis. Onslow County’s economy faces imminent damage without federal- and state-funding to allow child care providers to re-open their doors and provide families with much-needed care options. It is simple: Families need child care to work and the economy needs workers to thrive.
Although we have heard the phrase “When things return to normal” countless times throughout the past year, for the child care industry, a return to normal is not enough. High-quality child care is truly the backbone of economic development and progress for Onslow County and the families who live here. We are heartened to see child care funding included in the American Rescue Plan Act, a crucial step in the right direction of valuing child care as a foundational part of the economic fabric of our community.