Child care is a two-generation issue: Gaps in quality and access affect not only the education that children receive but also their parents’ ability to go to work.
Thinking of child care as a pillar of our economy has become critically evident among the business community, especially during the pandemic. Many companies are answering the call to make access to child care easier for employees.
The rising costs for parents and employers
It’s easy to understand why parents sometimes choose to stay home, even when they’d like to return to their jobs. Child care remains very expensive, even though child care workers are often overworked and underpaid. For example, the average annual cost of unsubsidized child care in California is $16,945 — about twice the cost of a year’s worth of public college tuition and fees in the state.
The high cost and other child care factors can keep parents, especially women, from joining or rejoining the workforce. In fact, 28% to 40% of parents surveyed for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2021 Untapped Potential research said they, or someone in their household, did not take a job or had to change jobs due to issues with finding suitable child care.
In turn, the data indicates, businesses’ ability to recruit and retain qualified workers is diminished.
Status quo means states lose $2.7B
We cannot continue with the status quo, because when child care breaks down, everyone suffers. The Chamber Foundation research found that states lose an average of $2.7 billion annually due to gaps in child care. This figure includes an average of $528 million in lost tax revenue and $2 billion lost from employee turnover and absences.
The data is clear: Child care is a workforce issue.
Determine employees’ child care needs
Employers can take steps to improve child care access for employees, families and — most important — children.
First, ask employees what they need. While business owners may think they know their workforce well, there is no substitute for real conversations around employees’ experiences. It’s important to remember that no two families are the same when it comes to taking care of their children.
Create opportunities and safe spaces for communication that allow for honest feedback from employees. This is the easiest and most effective way to begin to address the challenge of child care gaps.
Build in flexibility
Often, flexibility is the biggest variable in parents’ ability to find suitable child care. Business owners can’t always directly change how accessible child care is, but they can work with their employees on adjustments, such as providing flexible hours, shifts or schedules.
Employers also can leverage the growing trend of hybrid work.
These tactics and many others help parents address their children’s needs while remaining active members of the workforce. They’re simple but powerful steps that can work across large and small corporations.
All industries and regions are feeling the ramifications as families across the country struggle to find access to quality, affordable and flexible care for their children.
Ultimately, the best solutions will come from different stakeholders working together. The business community is well-positioned to take a leadership role in their employees’ ability to access child care effectively. A proactive and collaborative solution to fixing the child care crisis in America will yield returns for the economy, parents’ quality of life and our children’s educational future.
Cheryl Oldham is senior vice president of education and workforce for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which produced the 2021 Untapped Potential Series.
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