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Child Care is an Economic Imperative for Texas

My organization is lobbying for change even though we don’t work in child care. It’s that important.
By Emily Williams Knight
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS, TX (February 27, 2023) – 
When the Texas Restaurant Association started talking about child care and early childhood learning, we received more than a few confused looks. The Texas Restaurant Association is known for championing businesses — primarily small businesses — that keep our communities fed. Texans know restaurants were battered and are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. What they might not realize is our recovery, and indeed Texas’ entire economy, is threatened by families’ inability to find and afford quality child care. That’s why we’re championing child care at the Texas Capitol this session.
Food service businesses like restaurants are the state’s second-largest private sector employer, employing more than 1.3 million people. And like many industries, we’re struggling to attract and retain talent as we rebuild from the pandemic and try to meet the needs of a state that adds roughly 1,000 mouths to feed every day. According to our latest survey, two-thirds of Texas restaurant operators do not have enough employees to meet existing demand. This data, combined with the fact that most of our workforce cannot work from home and needs child care beyond the traditional 9-to-5 window, puts us squarely in the eye of the storm when it comes to Texas’ child care crisis.
Sometimes child care is dismissed as a women’s issue or a social problem. As a working mother of twins, I know the impact that child care and early childhood learning has on families. That’s reason enough to prioritize the issue, but for those who aren’t convinced, I’d suggest a look at the numbers to appreciate the cost that inadequate child care creates for all of us.
Texas’ economy loses more than $9 billion every year due to inadequate child care. The COVID-19 pandemic made a bad situation worse when 21% of our state’s child care programs closed, leaving nearly one-third of our ZIP codes in a child care desert. The providers that remain will soon face a fiscal cliff, as nearly $6 billion in federal pandemic relief expires in 2024. These providers are already struggling to operate at full capacity due to worker shortages, with the median early childhood educator wage sitting at $12 per hour, according to a Vanderbilt University study released last month.
The crisis is only becoming more costly over time. In Texas, only half of our students enter kindergarten ready for the academic challenges ahead of them, and only 39% meet reading benchmarks by the end of third grade, according to Texas Education Agency statistics. Students who are not reading by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, creating worsening labor shortages and greater demand on social services.
If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that we aren’t powerless to intervene. The Texas Legislature is meeting until the end of May, and its top priority is to wrestle with the state’s $32.7 billion in extra revenue. This budget surplus stems from Texas’ economy and the fact that inflation has increased the taxes that we all pay on everyday items. What better way to reinvest that revenue back into our economy by shoring up an industry that many other industries depend on?
The Texas Restaurant Association isn’t a child care or early childhood education expert, but we know firsthand that the lack of affordable, quality child care is hurting our workforce and our entire economy. We’ll continue to champion child care as the economic imperative that it is, and we look forward to working with advocates and lawmakers of both parties this session to invest in child care, support the child care workforce, and update regulations to maximize this investment.
The Texas economy has outperformed many others throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, but how well we tackle child care may very well determine if we maintain our competitive edge.

Tony Abruscato (Chief Marketing Officer) & Kelsey Erickson Streufert (Chief Public Affairs Officer)
[email protected]

Formed in 1937, the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA) serves as the advocate and indispensable resource for the foodservice industry in Texas. As a leading business association, the TRA represents the state’s $87 billion restaurant industry, which encompasses more than 53,000 locations and a workforce of over 1.3 million employees. Along with the Texas Restaurant Foundation, the workforce development arm of the TRA, the association proudly continues to protect, advance, and educate a growing industry as the TRA enters its 86th anniversary year. For more information, please visit