The Rutgers Center for Women and Work, supported by the New Jersey State Policy Lab, analyzes the state’s childcare landscape
On May 11, 2023
A new report by the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, supported by the New Jersey State Policy Lab, finds the Garden State’s childcare infrastructure has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. South Jersey faces some of the greatest challenges.
“Accessing and affording high quality childcare is far too challenging for New Jersey families,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work and co-author of the report. “The industry has faced staffing and retention issues for years, and the pandemic made it worse. Without serious public investment that supports equitable access to high quality care and compensates childcare workers for their skills and expertise, we will continue to see instability in the field and families struggling to find care and make ends meet.”
Rutgers researchers analyzed more than 10 years of federal and state data to compile their nearly 100-page report on New Jersey’s childcare landscape. They found:
Growing Need: More moms and dads are working, creating a need for more childcare. The share of kids under age 6 with all available parents in the labor force jumped from 63% in 2010 to 69% in 2020. Gloucester (78%) and Atlantic (77%) counties top the list.
Hard Choices: A quarter of families (24%) experienced a childcare disruption during the pandemic, forcing many parents to cut their hours (23%) or quit their job (8%). Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, low-income, and single parents had the hardest time finding care.
Fewer Options: Center-based childcare capacity has recovered in New Jersey, but home-based childcare capacity is still down. This is especially challenging for immigrants and low-income families, who rely on the lower cost and flexibility of home-based care.
Labor Shortage: The state’s childcare workforce remains “substantially below its pre-pandemic levels,” even while other industries have rebounded. Salem County has seen the slowest recovery in its childcare workforce, followed by Gloucester County.
Low Pay: Childcare workers struggle with low wages. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earn just a fraction (33%) of what their counterparts make in the private sector, giving them little incentive to stay in the field. And while the majority of childcare workers are women (93%), they earn just 75 cents on the dollar compared to male co-workers.
“We are proud to release this report with the Center for Women and Work today,” said Elizabeth Cooner, executive director of the New Jersey State Policy Lab. “We believe this research provides vital insight into the current state of childcare for families all across New Jersey, as well as valuable policy recommendations going forward.”
The report’s authors analyzed prior research in the field to formulate “policy prescriptions” for improving New Jersey’s childcare supply. They recommend:
Improving wages and benefits for childcare workers;
Revamping care subsidy pay structures;
Reducing or providing support for regulatory burdens placed on providers;
Boosting the care worker pipeline;
Incentivizing education among care providers;
Expanding care through employer- and government-sponsored care centers; and
Extending paid parental leave programs.
The report also outlines recommendations to make it easier for New Jersey families to get help paying for childcare. They include:
Streamlining the application process by enabling parents to sign up for childcare subsidies when they apply for NJ FamilyCare and NJ SNAP benefits;
Resetting eligibility thresholds so that parents do not lose their subsidies when their income increases by a modest amount;
Administering the subsidy program by awarding contracts and grants to childcare providers, rather than giving vouchers to parents; and
Considering childcare tax credits and publicly provided childcare.