Closing the Childcare Gap

Compared to the rest of the developed world, the United States has a significant childcare gap. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes that the pandemic “has forced the issue” about the relationship of childcare to the health of our economy. She cites Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, as noting, “Parents can’t work without it. It’s gotten to the point where the costs of not investing [in affordable, quality childcare] are much, much more clear” in terms of the drop in women’s workforce participation. Also at risk is the early development of children, especially low-income children, who are losing out on opportunities to participate in high quality early childhood education programs that prepare them for school and lead to successful adult lives because affordable childcare is not available.

Miller spells out the childcare gap for the United States as follows for care of children two years old or younger:

Category of childcare for children two years and younger United States Other


Percent of childcare costs paid by parents 100 percent Denmark: parents pay maximum 25 percent

France: government gives tax credit for 85 percent

Average cost per month per child $1,100 Nordic countries: free

Denmark: free plus $700 quarterly child benefit paid to parents

Percent of GDP paid for childcare 0.2 percent OECD: 0.7 percent
Amount per child paid by federal government in tax credits annually $500 Denmark: $23,140

Norway: $29,700

Germany: $18,700

Combined amount paid by federal, state, and local government per child annually $1,000  
Paid family leave No federal policy Europe: fourteen months paid family leave

The resistance to subsidizing childcare in the United States runs deep. Miller notes that “Americans have long had mixed feelings about whether young children should stay home with family or go to childcare.” But as women continue to drop out of the workforce or are unable to return due to unmet childcare needs, our economy continues to struggle, and our youngest children are left behind. It is time for the United States to invest in childcare and catch up with the rest of the developed world.


Photo courtesy of Fons Heijnsbroek (public domain)

Leave a Comment