Rural and urban parents may have a harder time accessing licensed child care in their neighborhoods, according to a new report that identifies so-called “child-care deserts.”
This is the second report this year to identify the need for more licensed child care in New Jersey.
“It underscores what a crisis this is for America’s families, for New Jersey’s families, for families across the country,” said Donna Norton, executive vice president of MomsRising, a national advocacy group for mothers. “It’s a huge threat to the economic security of families that it’s so difficult to find affordable and high-quality child care.”
According to the report released earlier this month from the Center for American Progress, 48 percent of people in New Jersey live in a child-care desert, which is defined as any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child-care providers or too few options.
In May, Advocates for Children of New Jersey released a report that said Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties trail the state in providing center-based child-care options for infants and toddlers who may need care.
The report, “No Room for Babies: Center-based Infant-Toddler Child Care in Short Supply,” finds only 13.9 percent of the need for infant and toddler care in Ocean County is met, while Cape May County had 17.2 percent. In Atlantic County, 18.4 percent of the need for child care is met.
The CAP report drilled down on data to census areas, giving a neighborhood-by-neighborhood view of child-care access by location type and income. The map is heavily speckled in the New York City and Philadelphia suburbs, but towns farther away saw less and less coverage.
The interactive map shows large swaths of Cape May County, Cumberland County and much of southern and the eastern side of Atlantic County — including most of Atlantic City — as child-care deserts. Fifty-one percent of New Jersey residents in rural areas live in child-care deserts, according to the data.
“Child-care supply is especially low in New Jersey’s urban areas, where 54 percent of residents live in areas without enough licensed child-care providers,” the report states.
In addition, lower-income communities in New Jersey are 20 percent more likely to be child-care deserts than higher-income areas, the report says. Norton said that for low-income families, it is even more important to have reliable, nearby child care.
“Low-income moms are less likely to have access to reliable transportation, so it makes the whole equation harder,” she said.
The data also break down child-care access by race, showing black and Hispanic families have less access to child care than white families. Statewide, 47 percent of the families in child-care deserts are white, 52 percent are black and 53 percent are Hispanic.
The report points out that while there has been an increase in the percentage of parents who work outside the home in recent years — as well as expanded research on the role of early care in shaping a child’ educational, health and social outcomes — access to child care has not followed suit.
“In most markets, these coinciding factors should produce a thriving market for quality child care. Certain places —usually affluent suburbs — have indeed seen supply rise to meet demand. As this study finds, however, many neighborhoods, small towns and rural communities across the country have inadequate child-care options,” the report states.
In areas with child-care deserts, maternal labor force participation is 3 points lower than those areas that are not deemed deserts, but the report stops short of correlating the two.
“This analysis is not designed to understand the directionality of the relationship between supply and demand. However, understanding proximity to licensed child care is an important component of child-care access and can be used as a springboard for policy solutions that help families find high-quality child care that meets their needs,” the report states.
To read the full report and see the interactive map, visit the Center for American Progress website.