Child Care Is ‘Just a Huge Mess.’ Will Government Finally Fix It?

A few weeks ago, I got a panicked message from Jason Cohen, a dad in upstate New York. He told me that the day care where his twin toddlers had been happily ensconced for over a year, J.A.C.E. Daycare and Early Learning Center in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., was closing unexpectedly and had given parents less than two weeks’ notice and no clear explanation. But Mid Hudson News reported that the center was “suffering extreme financial stress and defaulted on a major loan.”

“It’s just a huge mess,” Cohen told me. He said that the worst part is that his family has grown close to many of the day care’s workers and that “a lot of them are young people who have children of their own who go to this day care and now these people are without a job.”

Over the past year, I’ve heard many stories like Cohen’s. News accounts from Georgia to Iowa to Missouri tell the same tale, some version of: day care closes abruptly, leaving parents scrambling and teachers unpaid. As my newsroom colleague Claire Cain Miller reported in February, the pandemic-era injection of federal funds that kept many child care centers from foundering are expiring, inflation is making child care centers more expensive to run, and some parents may be working from home more often, cutting back their work hours or relying on family or friends to provide care to save cash. The result is “an industry on the brink.”

If you’ve been covering family policy for any amount of time, you know that child care has been an industry on the brink for decades and that the Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbated its structural problems. There’s a reason that in 2021, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen described the child care market as a “failure.” A 2020 report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress estimated that before the pandemic, there were “more than four children under age 3 per licensed child care slot, or enough licensed child care to serve just 23 percent of infants and toddlers,” and found that 80 percent of counties in its study “would be classified as an infant and toddler child care desert.”

Don’t even get me started on the cost of care — families are spending an average of 24 percent of their household income on child care, according to a survey from’s 2024 “Cost of Care” report. Whitney Livsey, who lives in Pennsylvania, told me that the rising costs of child care on top of inflation and paying her husband’s student loan debt means her two-income family isn’t able to save much. “Our child care costs also went up in September of last year and will be raised again this year,” she said. “Our day care has had so much turnover and continues to struggle with keeping workers — even though they did raise their hourly pay rates.”

While the child care work force has pretty much rebounded to prepandemic staffing levels, there seems to be more volatility in the system than there was before 2020.

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