Economic mobility starts at birth - Salish Current
October 12, 2022
Economic mobility starts at birth
Mauri Ingram

For many families, finding child care is a dilemma; finding affordable child care is an even greater challenge. Whatcom County is short about 5,000 child care/early-childhood-learning slots, analysts say, and a family of four that does find child care pays up to four times the recommended percentage of household income. (Salish Current photo)

October 12, 2022
Economic mobility starts at birth
Mauri Ingram


The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

It is hard to look at a baby without marveling at their sweet perfection and promise. Who is this tiny person? Who will they be? The sky’s the limit!
Or is it? The American story of economic mobility has persisted: Show up, work hard and enjoy the middle-class fruits of your labor. That used to be true. And now it isn’t.

Close to half of the ~2,000 babies born in Whatcom County this year will start from behind, with the odds against them ever making up the distance. Unlike a child born in 1940, 92% of whom attained a lifestyle better than their parents regardless of childhood circumstances, a child born to a household of low-to-moderate income today is, without intervention, likely to stay there — no matter how well they show up or hard they work.

Economic opportunity begins at birth. And even though everyone wants to give their children more and better opportunities than they had, the deck is stacked in favor of babies born to higher-income families who are white, college-educated and thus steeped in “social capital,” i.e., the relationships that give people the ability to act on their aspirations as well as the ability to access benefits. These are the essential factors that predict educational attainment, financial security and even life expectancy. 

And yet:

  • Many families in Whatcom County are severely burdened by housing, child care, transportation, healthcare and food costs.
  • 46% of children in Whatcom County, and only 25% of Black, Indigenous and children of color, enter kindergarten fully ready to learn.
  • The county is short about 5,000 child care/early-childhood-learning slots.
  • A family of four that does find child care pays up to four times the recommended percentage of household income. Four times. Imagine what that does to the rest of your budget.
  • A living wage in Whatcom County for a full-time sole provider of a one-child household is $30.57/hour. Two full-time working adults with one child would each need to earn $18.08/hour.

Research — and the experience of educators and parents everywhere — tells us that when children live in a safe, stable place, with other basic needs met and quality early-learning opportunities, they do better in school and in life. It also shows that the strength of relationships and communities — i.e., social capital — play an essential role in a person’s income and health.

So let’s start there.

The Whatcom Community Foundation works in eight areas key to the pursuit of a community where everyone has what they need to thrive. “Birth to Bright Future” focuses on the community’s youngest residents and their families. Here is a snapshot of what we’re working on right now.

Promoting universal, automatic child savings accounts (CSAs) in Whatcom County.
When a child starts life with a modest savings account, good things happen. Household stress and parental depression lessens. Family savings increase. Kids develop a college-bound identity. College debt shrinks. Depending on how much is originally seeded in the account, overall family health may also improve.

Children in low-to-moderate income households with savings accounts ranging from $1-499 are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate from a 2- or 4-year program.

In a pilot program launched in October, the Community Foundation is partnering with Mercy Housing Northwest and the Washington Student Achievement Council to start 529 GET Children’s Savings Accounts for every child living at Mercy Housing’s Sterling Meadows and Trailview properties:

  • The pilot is the result of several years of study into programs around the country.
  • More than 100 youth under 18 live at Sterling Meadows; all are eligible for the program.
  • Initial deposits of $500 for each child’s account will come from the Child Savings Account Project Fund at the Community Foundation, created by generous local donors.
  • Families and others can add funds to these accounts.
  • We are still raising money to increase the amounts for accounts.
  • Short-term goal: raise an additional $250,000 — enough to fund each account at Sterling Meadows and Trailview with $1,000 and expand the program to other sites, including Millworks Family Housing, which breaks ground soon.
  • Long-term goal: establish a countywide account program that serves as a statewide model.

• Making child care resource grants
Since January 2020, the Community Foundation has granted $367,765 to organizations working to improve child care services, access and capacity in Whatcom County.

• Supporting Prop-5 —Whatcom County’s Healthy Children’s Fund 
The Community Foundation supports making the children and families of Whatcom County a top priority. That means funding child care and early learning, along with targeted support for children who face big challenges. We recognize that a property tax will be hard on some households. While there is never the perfect time, or the perfect vehicle for launching new solutions, we know that supporting the best possible start for families now will save resources over time and more importantly, unleash profound potential that may otherwise wither.

We can’t see any reason not to give every baby in Whatcom County the education and resources they’ll need to reach for the sky. Can you?

—Contributed by Mauri Ingram

See also:
Voters asked to approve child care support as demand exceeds supply,” Salish Current, Sept. 29, 2022
Child care shortfall frustrates families, hampers local economy,” Salish Current, Sept. 22, 2022

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