VOICES: WPAFB understands importance of child care

In the next few years, employees of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will get a new $31 million child care center that will care for and provide early learning to an estimated 300 children from 6 weeks to age 5. There’s also a second $29 million center in the works. It will provide care for another 300 children, ages 6 weeks to 12.

The military gets it. Uniformed service members and Department of Defense employees can’t do their jobs well if they don’t have affordable, accessible, high-quality child care. In 2020, the Department of Defense supported programs that served an estimated 200,000 children. Imagine if the families of those children couldn’t be at work. The military is making this investment because child care is a force readiness issue and a quality-of-life priority for its workforce.

The Defense Department’s case to Congress is that high-quality child care helps the military recruit and retain employees and boosts morale for service members doing essential, difficult, often dangerous work. Fees are subsidized, and families are charged based on their income on a sliding-scale basis. Programs must be accredited, and quality standards are higher than in most states.

How’s that for revolutionary thinking? What if we acknowledge that in many families (military and non-military), both parents work outside the home? What if we grant that if we help them afford high-quality child care, they’ll be more likely to stay on the job?

Yes, the military is different than the civilian world, and it can go to Congress for money. But it’s worth noting that the Department of Defense, where men overwhelmingly outnumber women, is adamant that to be successful, it must consider the well-being and early education of service members’ young children.

Providing high-quality child care is expensive (even though employees in the field typically earn less than a living wage). A Care.com survey of 2,000 parents found that 47% of respondents were spending up to $18,000 per year on child care. On average, families were spending 24% of their household income on the expense.

If the Defense Department didn’t help with child care, how many military parents would opt for a career that demands so much while also expecting them to spend an exorbitant amount of their pay on a non-negotiable need?

Different though they are, the military and civilian employers share some of the same concerns. Employers in all sectors are struggling to hire and keep employees. But the cost-benefit analysis is discouraging when taking into account child care. For many people — many of them women — working simply doesn’t pay.

Access to affordable, quality child care needs to be a national and state priority, and governments have to invest — put up real money — in building a system that helps families who are eager to work.

As a country, we support the education of K-12 children because it’s a public good, a public necessity. We acknowledge that the education of our children is an investment in our country’s future and drives a successful economy.

Making child care affordable is no different. We must be willing to help pay for it if we really want children, families, and employers to thrive.

Shannon Jones is the CEO at Groundwork Ohio, a statewide advocacy organization that supports investing in young children and their families. She is also a resident of Springboro, Ohio, and a current Warren County Commissioner.

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