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Washington: Child Care is not Child's Play

Project status

Completed September, 2004

Lead Agency

Division of Child and Youth Services
Human Services Department,
City of Seattle

Contact Person

Jodi Nishioka
Human Services Department
Division of Family and Youth Services
City of Seattle
Tel. (206) 684-0289
Fax (206) 386-1138

Research Firm

Division of Child and Youth Services
Human Services Department,
City of Seattle


  • Number of Establishments
  • Child Care Labor Force
  • Children Served
  • Gross Receipts
  • Number of Parents with Children in Paid Care
  • Multiplier Effects on Local Economy
  • Governmental Transfers / Subsidies
  • Tax Receipts / Fiscal Impact


  • Stand-Alone Executive Summary/Brochure
  • Newspaper Article / Media Coverage
  • Conducted a Series of Presentations
  • Sent Out an Outreach Letter
  • Involved Business / Economic Development

Additional Information

Planning stage

Case Study

Case Study: Washington State
“Child Care is not Child’s Play: The Economic Impact of the Child Care and After-School Industry in Washington”
Date of Study Completion: October, 2004



The study was initiated by the Northwest Finance Circle, a project of the Human Services Department at the City of Seattle. The study team did not establish an advisory committee during the research process. Instead, they shared preliminary results with key leaders and then hosted a business breakfast prior to the report’s official release. Representatives of the business and economic development communities, including the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Boeing Corporation, Starbucks, local banks, and the City’s Office of Economic Development provided feedback and insight into the report and took leadership roles at the breakfast.


This statewide report was written by the Northwest Finance Circle (NWFC), a community collaboration funded by the city of Seattle with the goal of revolutionizing the financing of child care. However, budget cuts at the end of 2003 caused the NWFC to lose its funding. The authors of the report learned about economic impact studies in other regions of the country and decided to make the study their final project as an attempt to get the business and policy sectors interested in investing in child care. The City of Seattle has a strong history of supporting child care, investing close to $5,000,000 in the industry in 2003. However, a glass ceiling effect has taken place and increasing funding to improve quality has proven very difficult.

The Study:

Sector Definition

The research team focused primarily on licensed care because of the lack of availability of data on unlicensed care. Their definition of “child care” included licensed child care and preschool programs, including Head Start and Early Childhood Education Program (ECEAP), a free program offering a preschool learning experience targeted at 4 year olds from low-income families living or working in Seattle.

Data Analysis

Measurement* Washington
Number of Establishments 9,012
Child Care Labor Force 29,100
Children Served 164,000
Gross Receipts $836 million
Number of Parents with Children in Paid Care X
Multiplier Effects on Local Economy X
Governmental Transfers / Subsidies X
Tax Receipts / Fiscal Impact X

*Not all studies included the same components making it difficult to compare the numbers provided in this chart with those of other studies. In its definition of the number of establishments, this study included licensed and regulated center and family care and pre-K in public schools, and did not include regulation-exempt centers or home-based care (informal care). In its definition of gross receipts, this study included provider charges (parent fees and vouchers in lieu of parent fees), and government funded programs (Head Start, Pre-K), but did not include provider subsidies (quality dollars, Child and Adult Care Food Program, etc.)

One of the biggest challenges came in the lack of current information about the child care sector. This challenge was addressed through extensive research, outreach and relationship building with data resources as well as inquiries to regions that have already completed an economic impact study.

Unique Findings

  • The Washington report included a pie chart that identifies the industry sectors that employ Washington parents who use child care. The chart shows that these parents span all sectors of the economy, with the largest percentage (15%) in Retail Trade. A similar pie chart was then created to identify the industry sectors that employ parents who receive City of Seattle child care subsidies. Although this second chart is somewhat different from the "all parents" chart, it too shows a wide range of employers. The primary difference is that parents who receive City subsidies are more strongly represented in the Medical Services sector (18%). The second highest percentage was Retail Trade, which employed 13% of parents who receive City child care subsidies.
  • Diana Pierce, of the University of Washington researched and authored a study to evaluate criteria for self-sufficiency in the Seattle area. Pierce’s study included four counties in Washington, including King County, the county in which Seattle is located, with hourly wage requirements to meet basic needs, ranging from $7.90 to $11.76 in each county. These data are then used in a table which demonstrates the impact of child care on the family budget. In Kings County (Seattle) each adult must earn an hourly wage of at least $11.76 to meet basic needs. At these wages, child care for one preschooler and one school-aged child would consume 25% of the family budget.


Organizational Change and Outreach

Business became a strong partner. Prior to the economic study, a Seattle Chamber of Commerce committee had been established to explore the potential role of business in child care. This committee became involved in reviewing the economic impact study and partnered with the authors in hosting a breakfast to promote the report. The final report included quotes (on the importance of child care) from theVice President for Boeing Corporation, President and CEO of EMC Corporation, and the former president of the US Bank of Washington.

Academics and data analysts were also key partners. The authors worked closely with the University of Washington in gathering data, as well as with many other state and local data resources.

Seattle rolled out the report at a breakfast meeting co-sponsored by the City of Seattle , Federal Reserve Bank ( San Francisco , Seattle branch), Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and University of Washington Human Services Policy Center. Rob Grunewald, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank, was the keynote speaker and Jill Nishi, Director of Economic Development for the City of Seattle , presented the report’s findings. Rick Brandon of the University of Washington Human Services Policy Center presented policy implications. The event was emceed by the President/CEO of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The Federal Reserve Bank hosted the roll out and provided a hot breakfast. Over 50 people attended including business representatives, child care advocates, foundation representatives, elected officials (city council, state reps/senate staff), and representatives from the media. They had coverage on National Public Radio, a local family magazine (Parent Map) sent a reporter and the Puget Sound Business Journal interviewed with Billie Young, co-author of the report. The authors’ hope is to train community advocates so they can have a team of presenters to make presentations to state legislative committees and at local chambers of commerce .


The authors of the Washington State report feel their strength lies in concise, action-oriented policy recommendations. The authors wanted a few focused recommendations. They built on the top priorities of state child care advocates (the reimbursement rates and training) and what they thought were viable strategies in the eyes of funders and elected officials. Their three recommendations follow:

  1. Advance the effectiveness and quality of the child care industry by strengthening workforce development and retention and by providing support for business management practices. 
  2. Ensure adequate, sustainable funding for the industry.
  3. Expand equity and access for consumers by making the price reasonable for low- and middle-income parents.

Interview with:
Billie Young, Manager
Child Development Programs, City of Seattle
August 9, 2004
Jodi Nishioka, Planner
Department of Human Services
August 16th, 2004


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