Mary McCarthy: Child Care is a Necessity, Not a Privilege

Mary McCarthy is the President of YMT Consultants, Co-Founder & President of Women's Small Business Accelerator, Inc., and Founding Member of the Ohio Women's Coalition.


Child care has always been a topic of struggle between the need and benefit it provides working women and whether it is the sole responsibility for families to cover the expense or whether subsidies could enhance the child care experience and contribute to greater services and benefit to the community.


Let’s start with the value of women in the workplace. A 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute found that “42% of women in the U.S. were breadwinners, and an additional 22.4% were co-breadwinners.” The report also stated these numbers increased significantly for low-income families and women of color clearly highlighting the need for women to work and support their family. However, working mothers are only able to enter the workforce due to available and affordable child care.


As a working mother and grandmother, I understand the tremendous burden child care expenses are to a family’s budget. It is estimated that 10% of a middle-income family goes towards child care costs. An expense the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states surpasses their definition of affordability. And while the costs of child care are overwhelming to families, the business side of child care is equally strained. Child care centers struggle with high overhead and typically manage their expenses by paying their employee’s barely above minimum wage. The low wage often leads to high turn-over and low employee satisfaction and motivation.


The pandemic has brought a renewed focus on this challenge between women needing to work and care for their children, the financial burden of paying child care costs, and the struggle of the child care provider to recruit and retain qualified employees due to low hourly wages.


Child care shouldn’t be considered a privilege and it shouldn’t only be affordable for high-income families. Per the Center for American Progress, “the collapse of the child care sector and drastic reductions in school supervision hours as a result of COVID-19 could drive millions of mothers out of the paid workforce. Inaction could cost billions, undermine family economic security, and set gender equity back a generation. Mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibility amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.” This decrease in a family’s income impacts the community with decreased spending.


As someone said the other day, we cannot get to work if the roads are closed. Women also cannot get to work without adequate and affordable child care. This is not a women’s issue of whether they should work outside the home or stay home and care for their children. The 64.4% of women who are sole breadwinners or co-breadwinners, working outside the home is a necessity. Therefore, to retain our workforce we must ensure the availability of qualified child care services.

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.