Universal preschool dramatically boosts the number of moms in the workforce

By Melissa Locker

September 26, 2018

When parents have access to free preschool for their kids, they can go back to work.

That not-too-surprising revelation is documented in a new report from the Center for American Progress, which looked at what happened after Washington, D.C., started offering two years of universal, full-day preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds in 2009. They found that the city’s maternal labor force participation rate increased by about 12 percentage points, with 10 percentage points specifically attributable to preschool expansion.

For better or worse, with their kids in preschool, mothers in D.C. were able to reenter the workforce earlier, with preschool moms participating in the workforce at about the same rate as moms with older children in elementary school.

The effects of free, universal pre-K on moms’ participation in the workforce were seen across the income spectrum, although the greatest gains were made among unmarried mothers, mothers without a high school degree, mothers living in poverty, and black mothers.

“Many have documented the benefits of early childhood education on school readiness and healthy child development, but this report shows that expanding access to these programs can also improve maternal labor force participation, narrow gender wealth disparities, and promote economic growth,” said Rasheed Malik, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and author of the report.

The findings come on the heels of a new public opinion poll showing that nearly 8 in 10 voters support increased funding for quality, affordable child care. If Congress could figure out a way to make it happen, it could translate to a lot more moms back at work earning money that they could theoretically donate to political candidates. Just saying!