Mar 18, 2024 - Parenting

D.C.-area employers offering child care benefits amid nationwide crisis

A child goes down the slide at the Marriott headquarters' child care center.

The child care center at Marriott's Bethesda headquarters. Photo courtesy of Marriott International

Some D.C.-area employers are offering child care benefits to boost employee retention and productivity amid a countrywide crisis.

Why it matters: The District has a severe lack of affordable and accessible child care, causing many parents to shell out chunks of their paychecks.

The big picture: The hit to the U.S. economy from insufficient care is staggering, writes Axios' Erica Pandey.

  • Lack of available child care costs the economy $122 billion every year, according to a 2023 study from the bipartisan Council for a Strong America.

Zoom in: Some area companies are attempting to bridge this child care gap for their employees.

  • Marriott has an almost 11,000-square-foot daycare center in its new Bethesda headquarters where employees receive discounts. The hotel group also offers child care discounts to employees nationally.
  • Booz Allen Hamilton also offers on-site child care at its McLean headquarters, as well as discounts elsewhere.
  • Local employers such as Amazon, the Association of American Medical Colleges, Mitre, Google, and Cox (which owns Axios) provide a range of benefits, such as tuition discounts or subsidies, backup child care, or priority enrollment at certain daycares, often by partnering with large groups like Bright Horizons or
  • Meanwhile, the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington offers employees a 25% discount on its child care programs.

By the numbers: It costs an average of $24,400 annually to send a toddler to a D.C. child care center, per an Annie E. Casey Foundation report last year — making D.C. the priciest when comparing it statewide (although there's the typical D.C.-to-states comparison caveat).

  • This means a D.C. single mother earning the median income would spend 73% of her paycheck on child care, while a married couple would spend 11%, says the report.

57% of District parents surveyed in an Under 3 D.C. report said early childhood education costs would impact their ability to continue living here.

Meanwhile, D.C.'s early childhood education programs only have the capacity to serve an estimated 71% of kids under age 5, a recent study by Bainum Family Foundation found.

  • Out of this group, infants and toddlers are most affected — District programs only have space for an estimated 41% of kids ages 0 to 2.

A potential bright spot: There was a 47% increase in the number of businesses that provided on-site child care between 2020 and 2023, Best Place for Working Parents recently found when surveying its national network.

Between the lines: Several factors are pushing companies to step up and provide new care benefits.

  • Throughout the pandemic, daycares and nursing homes shuttered in huge numbers, raising the demand for care at home.
  • Pandemic-era federal child care funding, which was supporting more than 80% of licensed providers, expired in October.

On top of that, "It's been a tight enough labor market for long enough that employers are having to meet employees where they are," said Alicia Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University.

  • "Companies are focusing on [care] from a productivity perspective and a retention perspective," said Brad Wilson, CEO of According to's survey, 1 in 5 U.S. workers have left a job because their employer didn't provide adequate care benefits, and 1 in 5 say they would switch jobs for better support.

Reality check: Despite gains, there's still a long way to go: Child care assistance and onsite child care were the two least-implemented benefits among the Best Place for Working Parents surveyed member groups.

  • And while the issue of affordable child care affects all D.C. parents, it's worse for low-income folks and those in Wards 7 and 8, the Under 3 D.C. report found.

What we're watching: The care industry itself is changing as a result of the pandemic. "There's been a fundamental shift in both where care happens and where workers are," Modestino said.

  • As facilities close and slots at daycares and nursing homes disappear, more workers are looking for caregivers to come to their homes.
  • Companies are responding to this by offering cash, which gives workers the flexibility to arrange care however they want.

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