Where have all the children gone? What we can do about it: Universal Child Care

In New Jersey while our population between 1990 and 2017 has grown 16%, the per cent of children under 5 years of age has decreased precipitously by 18%. In the future this leads to insufficient New Jerseyans for our labor pool. One reason is the high cost now estimated at $233,610 to raise a child to age 18. One solution is universal child care or at least more free or subsidized childcare. Gov. Murphy is taking a step forward. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposes a giant leap.

CHILDREN UNDER 5 (<5) years old in New Jersey 

Year    % of kids <5      Total Children <5 Total NJ population 

1990:   7.1%                   547,644                    7,747,750

1999:   6.7%                   543,263                    8,143,412

2010:   6.1%                    541,020                   8,791,894

2017:   5.8%                    521,718                   9,005,644

So, although our total population has increased since 1990 the number of children under 5 has decreased in absolute numbers. The percentage decrease from 7.1% to 5.8% is 18%.

The Washington Post points out: Nationally parents make up a smaller share of the U.S. labor force now than at any other time. But it’s not because parents aren’t working. It’s because workers aren’t becoming parents.  Free child care would help.

For New Jersey’s working poor and even the middle class the cost of child care is an enormous, often an impossible, burden. Averaging at-home and in-center pricing, the group’s Care Index calculated New Jersey’s cost of child care at $17,868 annually.

Our low and moderate-income working parents can receive state subsidies for child care. Children whose families receive cash assistance under the state welfare program, WorkFirst NJ, are entitled to free child care. Families who were never on welfare also can receive child care subsidies under the NJ Cares for Kids program.  So in NJ there is free or subsidized childcare for some. There is NOT universal childcare.

Our 16% growth in population is largely accountable to a steady stream of immigrants.  We will be relying on them for our work force in the future. The majority of them have more children, but because of lower pay they can least afford child care. To qualify for subsidies their child must be a US citizen or qualified non-citizen, which helps some but not all.

New Jersey’s child care subsidy payment rates have remained relatively flat for the past decade. However, in October Gov. Murphy announced  a $38 Million investment in quality infant and child care & support for working families. It will take more than that to fund universal care.

While NJ’s income tax is constitutionally dedicated to fund property tax relief, there are other sources to tap. They include increasing the inheritance tax, corporate tax, carried interest tax, and even the regressive sales tax from the current 6.625% to its former 7.00% – also reinstating the estate tax. Let’s hope Governor Murphy will go bold in his Budget Address on Tuesday and remain insistent on increases for next year.

Possibly the most ambitious national program is Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) proposal released Tuesday for creating a “Universal Child Care and Early Learning” program paid for by a tax on the very wealthy. She is pushing this issue to the forefront of the 2020 presidential campaign where other candidates have or will have to state their positions. Her plan would ensure that every American would be able to enroll children up to 5 years old while paying no more than 7% of their income in fees. Families below $50,000 a year would pay nothing. Here’s a plan progressives should love –  exciting and worthwhile, but tough to achieve in the immediate future.

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