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By Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager at Child Care Services Association

April 1, 2020, is Census Day

The Census is your chance to make sure your community counts. Participating in the Census will help make sure your community over the next 10 years receives:

  • Fair representation in Congress;
  • Financial resources for health, schools, transportation and more; and
  • Help for information leaders to plan your community’s future. [1]
Source: NC Child

More than $5 billion of North Carolina’s federal funding for children’s services is at stake in the census, so it’s critical to get the count right. That’s about $1,600 for each person in federal funding for the state. [2]

However, in the 2010 Census, nearly 1 million children (4.6% of children under the age of 5) were not counted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, children under age 5 are one of the largest groups of undercounted people in the United States. [3] If missed in the Census, young children in hard to count communities also stand to suffer the most from reductions in funding to vital programs. [4]

Who is Hard-to-Count?

  • Low-income households
  • People of color
  • Non-native English speakers
  • “Complex” families [4] (for example, those with multiple generations of a family, unrelated families living together and blended or foster families.) [3]
  • Immigrants
  • Children <6
  • Renters [2]
Source: N.C. Counts Coalition

In North Carolina, 950,000 residents live in a hard-to-count community, [2] leaving 73,000 young children at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census. [4]

Nearly 1 in 5 of America’s infants are growing up in poverty, putting them at a greater risk to fall behind their peers in language development, reading proficiency, and experience learning disabilities and developmental delays. It is critical to invest in programs such as Early Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant that ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive. [5]

What Can You Do?

  • Help spread the word! Share this article by clicking on the social media icons below.
  • Learn more about the 2020 Census and find more resources and shareable materials here.
  • Tell the people in your life who care for children 5 and under to count every child in the 2020 Census on April 1.

Because census results help determine where federal funds are distributed for programs that are important for children, an accurate count can shape a child’s future for the next decade and beyond. It’s important to count young children now so they have the resources they need as they grow up. It all begins with responding to the 2020 Census. [3]


[1] North Carolina Census. Retrieved November 21, 2019.

[2] NC Counts Coalition. 2020 Census. PowerPoint. 2019.

[3] United States Census Bureau. Children Under 5 Among Most Undercounted in Last Census. Retrieved November 21, 2019.

[4] NC Child. Census 2020: Will N.C. Children Get Their Fair Share of Federal Investments? PowerPoint. 2019.

[5] Think Babies. Census Poverty Data Support Toolkit. 2019.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

In May, the Program Evaluation Division[1] (PED) within the North Carolina General Assembly released a new report, “North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts.”[2]

PED was right – addressing the achievement gap requires much more attention to a child’s earliest years. While Pre-K expansion was recommended, research points to the birth to age 3 period of a child’s life as the time when the largest impact on a child’s development is possible. This period of early childhood must also be taken into account as we plan for the future for all NC families.

PED was charged with reviewing school districts nationwide with high poverty rates and at least average achievement by students to see if there were common strategies that could be used within North Carolina school districts. The project addressed three research questions,[3]

  1. What are the characteristics of school districts that have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students yet demonstrate high academic performance?
  2. What policies or practices are high-achieving disadvantaged districts implementing that may contribute to student performance?
  3. What policies or practices could North Carolina implement in order to improve performance in districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students?

The results were sobering. PED found that local school districts throughout the country struggled in attaining grade level or better student performance. In fact, PED identified only 5% of predominantly economically disadvantaged school districts that also had grade level or better student performance over a 7-year period.[4] Within North Carolina, 45 of 115 school districts were identified as predominantly economically disadvantaged, which is about 39% of North Carolina school districts.  Of those 45 school districts, only 7 (about 16%) met the bar of student performance at grade level (or above).[5]  While higher than the national average, 16% is nothing to boast about.

What PED found was that within economically disadvantaged school districts where students are performing well (at grade level or above), third grade is an important marker. Student growth occurs after 3rd grade but that efforts to address student competencies before grade 3 are most important in reducing the achievement gap.[6]

PED conducted interviews within 12 economically disadvantaged school districts (comparable to school districts within North Carolina) with grade level (or above) student performance to see if there were any common strategies that led to higher student outcomes. One of the factors that the 12 school districts had in common was a significant investment in public pre-kindergarten (pre-K).  Pre-K in two of the school districts (Durant Independent School District in Oklahoma and Steubenville City Schools in Ohio) target both three- and four-year-old children for enrollment. Four of the five North Carolina counties in which case study districts were located had 75% or more of eligible children participating in NC Pre-K.

However, PED notes that current funding enables only 47% of low-income eligible children statewide to participate in NC Pre-K.[7]

The PED report makes two recommendations.

Recommendation #1.  The General Assembly should require low-performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan as a component of their required plans for improvement.[8]  PED calls for the development of specific strategies aimed at boosting achievement from pre-K to 3rd grade and lists expanding pre-K, improving pre-K quality, ensuring alignment of pre-K curricula with elementary school curricula, developing transition plans, providing professional development that focuses on early learning and providing instructional coaching focused on pre-kK through 3rd grade.

Recommendation #2. The General Assembly should require an assessment of early childhood learning as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s comprehensive needs assessment process for districts.[9]

While those of us who have worked in the early childhood education field are glad to see the recommendations related to pre-K, and agree the NC Pre-K program should be fully-funded so all eligible children have an opportunity to participate, children are not born at age four.

Research shows that pre-K makes a difference in a child’s school readiness, particularly for low-income children. However, that same research also notes that a child’s gains in pre-K are directly related to his or her prior experiences before pre-K.[10]  

Neuroscience research shows that a child’s earliest years, from birth to age three, play a critical role in the development of brain wiring that lays a foundation for all future learning.[11]  In the first years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed every second.[12] 

Source: Harvard University Center on the Developing Child

This wiring frames the architecture upon which all future abilities are built. While people learn throughout their lives, a child’s earliest years are critical because they set the foundation. Genes and experiences help shape a young child’s brain development,[13] which begin long before a child enters pre-K.  And, remediation strategies are much more difficult as children (and adults) age.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest data, throughout North Carolina:

  • 356,007 children are under age three[14]
  • 465,783 children are under age six who also have working parents (young children residing in two-parent families where both parents work or in a single-parent family where the head of household works)[15]

Young children with working mothers are in child care every week for about 36 hours according to the Census Bureau.[16]  Most of these children are not age four; they are not in pre-K. This is why any directive to the General Assembly to address the achievement gap, which rightly calls for addressing the early childhood landscape, has to not only focus on access to pre-K but also must focus on access to high-quality child care and the early childhood workforce that cares for our youngest children.

Child Care Services Association works locally with Think Babies™ NC and the leadership team as well as with national organizations on the importance of the prenatal to three years through. The Pritzker Children’s Initiative is dedicated to building a promising future for our country by focusing investment and support nationally in children at the earliest stages of life, particularly from birth to age three. Zero to Three and Child Trends just released the State of Babies Yearbook. North Carolina’s profile can be found here.

We applaud PED’s call for low performing school districts to include an early childhood improvement plan and an assessment of early learning opportunities as part of district comprehensive needs assessments. However, early learning is not limited to pre-K settings. High-quality child care programs are important early learning settings at all ages. Any needs assessment and early childhood improvement plans that are derived from such a landscape review must include our youngest children. Child development, school readiness and reducing the achievement gap depend on it.


[1] The Program Evaluation Division (PED) is a central, non-partisan unit of the Legislative Services Commission of the North Carolina General Assembly that assists the General Assembly in fulfilling its responsibility to oversee government functions.
[2] North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts, Final Report of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report #2019-06, May 20, 2019.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] National Institute of Early Education Research, Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions, 2018.      
[8] North Carolina Should Focus on Early Childhood Learning in Order to Raise Achievement in Predominantly Disadvantaged School Districts, Final Report of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, Report #2019-06, May 20, 2019.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Foundation for Child Development, Investing in Our Future: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Christina Weiland, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Margaret R. Burchinal, Linda M. Espinosa, William T. Gormley, Jens Ludwig, Katherine A. Magnuson, Deborah Phillips, Martha J. Zaslow. (2013).
[11] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. The Science of Early Childhood Development.
[12] Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child. Brain Architecture.
[13] Ibid.
[14] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B09001, 2017 American Community Survey, 1 year estimates.
[15] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, 2017 American Community Survey, 1 year estimates.
[16] U.S. Census Bureau, Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2011, released April 2013.

Marsha Basloe, President of Child Care Services Association

It’s common sense that parents with young children need access to child care in order to obtain and retain a job, which makes child care providers a vital part of local and state economies.  That’s why a report released by the Committee for Economic Development, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update is so important. The report reviews the market-based child care industry (which includes centers and home-based child care providers) and estimates that child care has an overall economic impact of $99.3 billion – supporting over 2 million jobs throughout the country.

What the report shows is that there is a strong link between child care and state and local economic growth and development. And, that the child care industry causes spillover effects (additional economic activity like the purchase of goods and services and job creation or support within the community) beyond those employed within child care or the business income of those operating centers or home-based programs.

Here in North Carolina, child care programs have an overall economic impact of $3.15 billion ($1.47 billion in direct revenue and $1.67 billion in spillover in other industries throughout our counties and cities).  Child care programs have an overall jobs impact throughout the state of 64,852, which includes 47,282 individuals who are employed within child care centers or who operate a home-based business plus another 17,570 in spillover jobs – created through the activity of those operating child care programs.

The economic impact of child care matters because it helps drive local economies. When parents can access child care, they are more likely to enter the workforce and stay employed.

Access to affordable child care also supports parents who seek additional education or job training, which can result in higher earnings over an individual’s lifetime. For example, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the difference between the income of a parent in North Carolina with a high school degree and a parent who dropped out of high school is $6,231 annually[i], but over a lifetime, that’s $249,240 the parent would earn just by going back to school to earn a high school diploma.  If that parent were to enroll in community college, and obtain an Associate’s degree, he or she could earn $10,652 more annually[ii] or $426,080 more over a lifetime compared to a parent who has not graduated from high school.

Earnings for those with a college degree are that much higher — $17,748 annually[iii] for a parent who has a Bachelor’s degree compared to a parent with an AA ($709,920 more over a lifetime). When parents have access to child care, both labor force participation grows (and with that, the ability for parents to support their families) and also the potential for parents to return to school to increase their earnings over the long-term becomes possible.

Child Care Costs & Labor Force Participation

In North Carolina, the average annual cost of child care is expensive. For center-based infant care, the cost is about $9,254 per year, and for home-based care, it’s $7,412.[iv] The cost of center-based infant care exceeds the cost of tuition at our 4-year universities and is 19.2% of state median income. With an understanding of the economic impact of child care, it’s concerning that parents may opt out of the workforce or reduce their hours at work when they can’t afford to pay the cost of child care. It not only means that parents could be less likely to be self-supporting, but that local economies are impacted as well – twice in fact. First, they are impacted by families who without employment may depend on welfare and second, communities are impacted by revenue foregone (no earnings or reduced earnings by those who reduce their hours means less revenue to support basic community needs such as police and fire protection, or local schools).

The CED report finds an economic return related to the use of child care subsidies that support parents in entering or staying in the workforce. CED estimates that for every additional federal dollar spent for child care subsidies to help parents work, there’s a $3.80 increase in state economic activity.

Child Care has a Two-Generational Impact

While I’ve mentioned the economic impact of child care on state and local economies, there is also the two-generational role that child care plays with regard to families and young children. Child care is a work support for parents, but it also enables children to be in a setting that promotes their healthy development and school readiness (while their parents work).  In this way, child care not only has a direct impact on the economy today, but also impacts the economy of tomorrow.

The impact of child care is broad-based:

  • There’s the direct impact of economic activity or revenue generated by those in the child care industry (centers and home-based providers),
  • There’s the indirect impact or spillover impact that results within communities from the operation of these businesses,
  • There’s the employment impact of jobs within the industry and spillover jobs as a result of the industry,
  • There’s the employer impact as parents who have access to child care reliably show up for work and are productive while at work, and
  • There’s the impact on children who have access to quality child care that supports their healthy development.

Check out CED’s Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update report today.


[i] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2001, Earnings in the Past 12 Months, 2017 American Community Survey. https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_17_1YR_S2001&prodType=table

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] The US and the High Cost of Child Care:2018, Child Care Aware of America, http://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/research/costofcare/