Top Ten Issues for Georgia’s Children—Quality Early Care and Its Economic Impact

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by Dana Rickman
Vice President, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education

In 1990, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the inaugural KIDS COUNT ® Data Book, which is now viewed as the most comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the United States.  In 1990, Georgia ranked 48th for child and family well-being. In 2019, Georgia ranks 38th.

Over the past 30 years, across the four domains—education, economic well-being, health, and family and community—Georgia has made significant progress overall, especially in the areas of education outcomes.  However, Georgia families continue to rank 40th in economic well-being. Currently, 28 percent of children live in homes where no parent has full-time employment. Relatedly, 21 percent of all children live below the poverty line, which is the 10th highest in the nation and higher than the percentage in 1990.

There are strong correlations between economic opportunity, healthy families, and better outcomes for children.  Each year, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education releases its Top Ten Issues to Watch report to help guide conversations with policymakers, educators, and community and business leaders about important education issues facing our state. Issue 2 in the current Top 10Early Learning: Quality Care and its Economic Impact—examines the important role availability of high quality care for young families has on these relationships.

In 2017, for example, 66 percent of children under age 6 had all available parents (either both parents or their only parent) engaged in the labor force. This means that a majority of parents across Georgia need reliable child care to maintain employment and earn a living. Without it, parents may miss work, turn down promotions, or leave their jobs altogether due to child care challenges. These challenges also affect parents enrolled in school or job training programs. Further, employee absences and turnover impact the bottom line for business and reduce participation in higher education and work training programs, which dilutes the workforce pipeline for future employers.

A statewide survey conducted by The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce brings this issue into focus, finding that among Georgia parents with children under age 5:

  • More than one in five indicated they have quit a job, school, or work training program due to child care issues.
  • Approximately one in 20 reported having been fired because of missing work due to challenges related to child care.
  • More than one in six reported having turned down a promotion at work because of issues with child care.

These child care challenges not only impact the well-being of families across Georgia, but they also impact the statewide economy. High-quality early learning and child care, for instance, contribute directly to Georgia’s economic health, generating $4.7 billion in economic activity and providing more than 67,000 jobs statewide annually. Further, working parents who are supported by child care across Georgia generate another $24 billion in annual earnings. In other words, when parents have quality early care and learning options, they will work, earn, and spend, all of which generates another $374 million in federal tax revenue and $162 million in state and local revenue.

Despite the significant progress Georgia has made in early learning and supporting young families, many Georgians across all income levels are still facing barriers to steady employment due to child care instability. To move our state forward economically, Georgia’s public and private leaders need to work together to expand access to early learning for all families, especially those living in poverty who are trying to navigate a pathway to prosperity. That includes sufficiently funding the child care subsidy program, providing onsite child care at businesses and post-secondary campuses, and supporting other programs that meet the needs of young children and their families.

With a majority (66 percent) of Georgia’s young children having a parent engaged in the workforce, investment in early learning that supports children and families must become an essential economic development strategy for our state. Georgia’s economic growth and the economic health of families with young children depend on it.

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
(GPEE) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit working tirelessly to improve student achievement and workforce development in Georgia. Founded in 1992 by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Economic Developers Association, GPEE informs and influences Georgia leaders for the improvement of student achievement through research and non-partisan advocacy to impact education policies and practices.