By Eric Galatas
A new Colorado Fiscal Institute report on working families in Pueblo, one of Colorado’s poorest regions, shows investing in free or affordable child care for kids before they enter school could lift families out of poverty.
Data collected during a regular school year, before the coronavirus pandemic, showed family income increased dramatically for families with 6-year-olds, compared with families with 5-year-olds. Report co-author Chris Stiffler, senior economist with the Institute, said most 6-year-olds are in school during the work week.
“So they have free childcare for five days a week in a lot of districts,” Stiffler said. “And so suddenly we see that their parents who were only working part time can work at lot more. And they work more, they make more income, and are less likely to be in poverty.”
Pueblo workers need at least $14.25 an hour to afford childcare, according to the report, but most jobs pay far less. In 2017, the median wage for retail workers was just over $11 an hour. Cashiers earn just $10 hour, and personal-care and food-industry workers earn even less.
Stiffler admits most state and local governments are not currently positioned to help cover child-care costs, in part due to lost revenues from the financial fallout from COVID-19.
He said a combination of low wages and the high cost of quality childcare has forced many low-income workers to choose between their career and family. And finding ways to make it easier to access free or affordable childcare would unleash a lot of economic potential for struggling families.
“They don’t become dependent upon government services; they actually work more. They have less reliance on public assistance, and it can help solve some of the disparities we’re seeing between racial equity, and low-wage workers and high-wage workers,” Stiffler said.
If Pueblo parents with kids age 2-5 could access free child care, researchers estimate workers would add some $35 million in wages to the local economy, and create some 200 jobs.
In 2017, Pueblo’s poverty rate was nearly double the rate statewide, with nearly half of single parents with kids younger than age 6 living in poverty. That rate drops to 32% after kids turn 6.
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