Elizabeth Brown: Child Care Is Key to Supporting Women in the Workforce

Updated: May 26

Elizabeth Brown is the Executive Director of the Ohio Women's Public Policy Network.


All parents, regardless of race, class, or zip code, deserve to go to work knowing that their kids have a safe, nurturing place to go. Unfortunately, high-quality child care is not affordable and accessible to all who need it, holding back Ohio families from reaching their full potential. This was true before the pandemic, and it remains even more pressing now as families face even greater challenges to meeting their child care needs.

Photo credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

Ohio must create more opportunities for parents and guardians - especially mothers – to access quality care for their children. Putting quality child care within reach of more families will keep Ohioans active in the workforce, help kids to thrive, and support the economic growth of our communities. House Bill 110, the state budget, offers state legislators a critical opportunity to ensure that more families can access quality care. That is why business leaders, early childhood educators, community leaders, and advocates are calling on Ohio legislators to increase initial eligibility for Ohio’s publicly funded child care program to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level in the state budget.


Currently, our state’s publicly funded child care system extends initial eligibility at 130% of the Federal Poverty Level. This equates to $13.57 per hour for a family of three, which is far from an economically sufficient wage to support even a family’s most basic needs, let alone the high costs of a high-quality child care program.


Ohio’s current standard – which is one of the most stringent in the nation – fails to go far enough to fully encompass and support the children and families in Ohio who do not have access to quality, affordable child care. This disproportionately affects women, particularly women working in low-wage or part-time jobs. These inequities have an even greater unequal burden on women of color and single mothers who face systemic barriers to accessing economic and employment opportunities, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.


Child care is a major expense for families. The average cost of center-based child care in Ohio for infants is just over $10,000 a year, and home-based care totals around $7,592 annually. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that affordable child care should not cost more than 7% of a family’s income; however, a single mother of two earning $15 per hour spends half her income on child care. Yet, she makes too much to qualify for publicly funded child care given Ohio’s low eligibility. Raising the initial eligibility for publicly funded child care to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level would make her eligible for support and alleviate this financial strain.


Access to child care is a crucial tool to ensure that working parents can meet their responsibilities of their job and their family, particularly now as our state moves towards recovery from the unprecedented economic crisis that hit with the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 3 million American women left the workforce, largely because the caregiving responsibilities in their families fell to women, and affordable child care was out of reach. Studies have shown that women ages 25-44 are three times as likely as men to be out of work during the pandemic due to disrupted child care arrangements. Women forced from the workforce have lost crucial wages that support their households. For many working mothers, the option to return to work is impossible without access to care for their children.


To recover, child care must be more widely available to struggling families across the state, particularly for families headed by Black and brown women who have shouldered the burden of the economic costs of the pandemic. Lifting the initial eligibility for publicly funded child care programs would offer greater economic stability to women who currently make too little to qualify, but don’t make enough to afford a high-quality program on their own. This barrier to care pushes working parents out of the workforce, hurts the growth and development of children, and puts a strain on businesses to maintain employees. There is no doubt that expanded access to child care is key to rebuilding from this crisis, both for families and for businesses.


In addition to the economic benefits that both families and our state receive from creating greater opportunity to access high-quality care, children’s future outcomes have also been shown to have a positive relationship to the accessibility and quality of child care and early childhood education they receive, further asserting the need for an equitable publicly-funded program in the state of Ohio.


These benefits extend beyond the individual impact on one child. Expanding the accessibility and affordability of child care has clear, undeniable connections to the workforce participation of working mothers and the economic stability of women and their families.


High-quality child care has long been difficult to afford in Ohio. Even before the pandemic, the high cost of child care put it out of reach for many working families. Ohio must take steps to expand access to high-quality child care. Investing in to our state’s child care system supports working mothers’ ability to provide for their families, which will play a foundational role in stabilizing businesses, rebuilding our economy, and helping all families thrive.

Groundwork Ohio's budget blog series features stories from child care professionals, families, business leaders, and community members on why there's an urgent need in their communities to expand access to quality child care. In the state biennial budget, Ohio legislators have the opportunity to increase eligibility for the state's publicly funded child care program from 130% of the Federal Poverty Level to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Read our child care budget fact sheet to learn more about why there is an urgent need to increase access to quality child care. Take action today by contacting your Senator urging their support for expanding eligibility by clicking here.