I was recently asked to speak at a community gathering about some of the challenges facing families today. This engaging conversation was punctuated by many in the audience who commented about the growing cost of child care and how it was placing a significant burden on their families. While this particular dialogue played out at this one gathering, I am sure it could be replicated in communities all across New Jersey. Access to affordable and high quality child care is proving to be a stumbling block as working families try to climb the ladder of success.
If you go past a day care center during its break or lunch and watch, even glance, as the kids are outside playing, it is something that should give you cause for pause and a thought. Looking at those faces registering innocence, joy, enthusiasm and excitement approaches a breathtaking moment. Those are some of the “faces” we want to assist. What we often don’t see are the harried parents who scramble to pick up their kids as they rush through the remains of their day. We don’t see the concern on their faces as they labor over how to pay for child care or the angst they possibly suffer over the care their children receive.
Research shows that more than 12 million children in our country under the age of 5 attend child care each week. Across the country, scores of working families find the challenge of identifying adequate and reasonably priced child care daunting. While the average annual price of a child care in America exceeds $10,000, with New Jersey residents paying some of the steepest prices in the nation, something has to be done to bend this cost curve. I believe that we need to offer a plan to working parents that helps them meet this important obligation without compromising their economic fortunes.
I have sponsored an initiative that would save numerous New Jersey working families some of their valuable resources and bolster child care options, which would create some financial security for working families. By supporting this immediate need of today's workforce, we are, in essence, preparing them for tomorrow’s future successes. Approved and certified child care programs are the initial building blocks that help us develop strong and stable citizens that serve to strengthen our country's economic future.
Specifically, my proposal provides a nonrefundable credit against New Jersey gross income tax for expenses paid for the care of a child or dependent when necessary for the taxpayer’s employment. The credit would be available to taxpayers who are allowed the referral child and dependent care credit and have New Jersey taxable income of $60,000 or less for the taxable year.
Rest assured this is not a government handout, refund or some semblance of state welfare. It is in every sense a tax cut for those who are struggling the most to make ends meet. The proposal rewards work by easing one of the major obstacles that many low wage working families face, affordable child care. Additionally, it seeks to address in part one of our country’s greatest under-reported challenges, the breakdown of the family.
Those who have read my posts in the past know how critical I have been on the effect that fatherlessness has had on the family structure. The research is clear on the devastating effects it has on poverty, incarceration, and substance abuse rates in neighborhoods all across our state. The nuclear structure that has strengthened communities of all socioeconomic and racial demographic over the course of time has slowly eroded away. I believe that this idea can be a piece of the puzzle towards rebuilding that structure by employing a pro-family and pro-growth economic policy.
The investments we make in our government, from infrastructure to research and access to public institutions, are both warranted and generally well-received. Furthermore, in the business world, all if not most of business investment, including buildings and even inventory, is immediately expensed or written off for tax purposes these days. How can we not make a similar investment, via a tax credit, to our most precious gifts: our children?
In this instance, this concept is neither a Democratic or Republican ideal. Candidates for the presidency from both of the major parties have included some variation of a child care tax credit in their policy platform. The reason why is that investments in our children’s well-being are good for our country and our economic prospects. The earlier a child has exposure and access to high-quality child care, the more likely he or she will blossom as they become older. This is especially pronounced in communities of lower socioeconomic means. Enacting a child care tax credit is not only good policy, but its intangible attributes will benefit New Jersey into the future. That’s my take. What’s yours?