Just 42 percent of eligible low-income preschoolers are actually served by Head Start and less than 4 percent are in Early Head Start, according to a recent report from CLASP. Meanwhile, only about a quarter of low-income families with children under the age of six who are eligible to get childcare subsidies actually receive them.
While funding for Head Start and Early Head Start went up by $1.2 billion between 2006 and 2012 and participation in the program also rose over that time period, “the growth in child poverty left large numbers of eligible children unserved,” the report notes. More than 16 million children live in poverty, a number that has risen since 2010, with the child poverty rate jumping from 19 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, federal funding for Head Start is now moving backward thanks to automatic sequestration cuts, which have meant that more than 57,000 children were kicked out of their programs this school year.
Spending on childcare assistance has been declining for a while, dropping from $13 billion in 2007 to $12.5 billion in 2011. About 150,000 fewer children are getting subsidies compared to 2006. Sequestration will also take a bite out of childcare assistance, reducing the block grants to states for subsidies by $69 million and meaning an estimated 30,000 children will lose assistance.
The United States is already very stingy when it comes to childcare and preschool compared to its developed peers. Other developed countries spend nearly 0.5 percent of their GDP on childcare, on average, while the U.S. spends 0.11 percent. It spends 0.4 percent of GDP on preschool, ranking it 21st globally.
Given that nearly half of today’s families have two working parents and a quarter more are headed by single parents, workers need somewhere to send their kids when they go to their jobs. Finding somewhere, however, is difficult. The cost of childcare keeps rising and now costs more than what the average family spends on rent or food. Under 70 percent of four-year-olds and about half of three-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs. Without somewhere affordable for kids to go during the day, some parents have had to drop out of the workforce altogether.