Child care has been brought up more and more with the pandemic causing shortages in services and employment losses preventing families from being able to afford it.

Child care and early childhood education in the state and country is more and more vital, according to a new study by Groundwork Ohio.

The public policy research group commissioned the study to survey 800 registered voters and 400 parents with children under the age of five between Oct. 23 and Nov. 8 of this year.

In terms of demographics, 84 percent of those polled were white, 10 percent were African Americans, 15 percent people of color and 5 percent Hispanic. Democrats represented 36 percent of those polled, 33 percent were identified as Republican and 31 percent as Independent. The majority (55 percent) of parents and voters were women.

Suburban individuals made up 53 percent of the study subjects, with 29 percent living in cities and the other 18 percent in small towns or rural areas.

The study showed more than four in 10 working parents have had to cut back hours to take care of children, and a majority of parents without full-time work could go back to work if they had affordable child care.

“Parents make a direct connection between child care and the ability to work/make money,” Groundwork noted in its findings.

The study comes as child care advocates are asking that monthly payments through the child tax credit be expanded, instead of expiring as scheduled on Dec. 31.

“With rising costs on everything from food to gas to child care, families are getting squeezed,” said Will Petrik, of the thinktank Policy Matters Ohio. “The child tax credit monthly payments give parents more breathing room and help families afford things they need.”

According to Policy Matters research, before the child tax credit payments started in mid-July, more than 1 million adults with children in Ohio reported difficulty paying for “basic household expenses.” After the tax credit payments began, the number dropped 26 percent, to about 850,000.

As of November, Ohio had disbursed more than $2.7 billion to families in the state, with an average monthly payment of $440.

Petrick says in order to keep payments going into January, Congress should pass the federal Democratic-backed Build Back Better spending bill.

In the Groundwork study, Ohio voters who were polled said they believed the pandemic had “put a strain on kids’ mental health and the mental health of their parents,” and voters of both major political parties believe the state should be spending more on early childhood education.

“Perhaps most importantly, even ‘strong’ Republicans believe Ohio should spend more on early childhood education,” the study stated.

One thing both voters and parents agreed on in the Groundwork study was that child care in Ohio is expensive.

Early childhood education as an election issue came up, with overwhelmingly support for candidates who focus on the topic. Of Ohio voters, 79 percent agreed it would be a “top factor” in a vote for an elected official in the state. For parents, the matter was even more resolute: 89 percent of parents said it would be a top factor for their vote.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.