The Catch-22 of our generation: The struggle to afford child care

As I have gone out talking to the folks in my district this summer, one slightly under-the-radar issue that has come up often is the struggle to afford child care.

In this day and age, working families face a Herculean struggle to get by on one salary, especially if they have children. Herein lies the greatest Catch-22 of our generation.

Most families need dual incomes to survive, but if they have preschool-age children, they are forced to find a way to pay for child care or early education in order for both parents to be able to work. Anyone who has found themselves in this position in the last 10 or 20 years knows that quality child care comes at a hefty price.

Child care costs have skyrocketed in recent years. Some estimates place the price at over $10,000 a year in New Jersey. According to ThinkProgress.org, child care costs more than the annual median rent in every state, more than mortgage payments in 19 states, and more than even tuition at a four-year public college in 31 states.

Compounding the problem is the fact that government assistance for child care last year fell to the lowest level since 2002, according to a report from the policy organization CLASP. For example, the federal block grant for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps low-income parents afford child care, hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since it was created in 1996, thereby losing about a third of its value.

Needless to say, household budgets are significantly impacted by this necessary and critical expense.

While roughly 36 states offer some type of child care tax credit, New Jersey, unfortunately, is not one of them. Providing some relief in this area for middle-class families is long overdue and much needed, and I am proposing a solution.

When the Assembly reconvenes this fall, I have legislation ready to be introduced that will provide families with significant assistance to help offset the burdensome cost of child care. The legislation is simple and straightforward, and models the child care tax credit offered at the federal level.

The amount of the credit established under my bill is based on a sliding scale linked to the amount of a taxpayer’s federal child and dependent care credit. So families earning $60,000 or less, with one child in day care, would be eligible to receive up to a $500 state tax credit, and those with two or more children in day care could receive up to a $1,000 state tax credit. Married couples would be required to file jointly in order to claim the credit.

This is a quality-of-life issue of vast proportions with serious, long-term ramifications for both parents and their children. According to a report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, investments in high-quality early education generate economic returns of over $8 for every $1 spent.

This is not an abstract struggle. It touches the lives of the vast majority of Americans, especially single-parent households where child care is not a luxury but an absolute necessity. Many working families do not have the good fortune to rely on the free help of family members to care for their children while they work. Absent a significant boost in the minimum wage nationwide, this struggle will persist, especially if Congress continues to scale back critical funding assistance.

It’s time for New Jersey to join the ranks of the nearly 40 other states that offer child care assistance. I hope my colleagues in the Legislature will join me in supporting this legislation for the benefit of working families throughout New Jersey.

[Original Article]