Parents and children are hardest hit by the lack of affordable, available, quality child care. But businesses also pay a steep price for the worsening – and often hidden – national crisis. In 2019 alone, the child care deficit cost Illinois and Iowa employers nearly $3 billion in lost productivity, revenue, and earnings, stakeholders learned […]
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Parents and children are hardest hit by the lack of affordable, available, quality child care.
But businesses also pay a steep price for the worsening – and often hidden – national crisis.
In 2019 alone, the child care deficit cost Illinois and Iowa employers nearly $3 billion in lost productivity, revenue, and earnings, stakeholders learned during a Business Forum on Child Care as a Workforce Solution held Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Moline’s Centre Station.
It is a multi-generational problem that has been brewing for decades and attacking it requires business leaders and policymakers to work together to find solutions, leaders of Iowa and Illinois organizations working to do that indicated.
Dozens of men and women crowded around tables in downtown Moline to hear from local leaders representing the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, United Way of the Quad Cities and Q2030, a nonprofit focused on a regional strategic plan.
They were joined by ReadyNation Illinois’ Kate Buchannan, who directs the state arm of an organization made up of more than 2,000 member businesses, and Sheri Penney of the Iowa Women’s Foundation (IWF). Ms. Penney is the former economic development director who was hired as the employer engagement director for IWF through a grant that grew out of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Child Care Task Force.
Attendees also swapped stories and brainstormed solutions before being tasked with helping spread the word about the problem throughout the business community.
“I was excited to see how many community members invested their time to learn about the critical role child care plays in building our current and future workforce,” Kate Jennings, Q2030 executive director, told the QCBJ.
“At Q2030, we recognize that high quality child care will help attain our regional vision of a community that attracts and retains families and young professionals, and we look forward to continuing to pull in additional businesses and stakeholders to engage on this topic,” she added.
The individual statistics advocates shared are startling. And when taken together they represent a $57 billion drain on the U.S. economy each year and a daunting multi-generational workforce and community challenge.
According to Rene Gellerman, CEO and president of United Way of the Quad Cities, children who don’t get the high-quality learning experiences they need are two to three years behind when they reach kindergarten. Those early years are critical since 80% of a child’s brain develops before age 5, she said. Too many never catch up.
United Way’s data also showed that nationwide 61% of moms are in the workforce compared to 12% in 1950, and there are far too many parents chasing far too few spaces they can afford for child care. For single parents, child care costs eat up 40% of their income, and when they add the 30% average cost of housing to their budget there is little left over for other needs.
In Illinois, the “annual blow” from child care losses is $2.4 billion, ReadyNation’s Ms. Buchanan said. Working families absorb $1.6 billion of those costs, with employers picking up $559 million and taxpayers $294 million of the annual tab.
According to the IWF, Iowa’s economy loses $935 million each year as a result of child care issues, and businesses absorb $781 million of those losses.
How do those costs add up so quickly for businesses? A national pre-COVID-19 survey of 800 working parents of infants and toddlers (shared by ReadyNation Illinois) said that because of child-care challenges:
- 63% of workers left work earlier than normal.
- 56% were late for work.
- 55% missed a whole day of work.
- 54% reported being distracted at work.
- And 32% said they missed part of their work shift.
The pandemic made matters worse because it resulted in 10% of child care spaces being closed due to restrictions and staff shortages, Ms. Buchanan said. As a result, these days, 50% of working parents say they struggle with child care, 60% cite lack of child care as their reason for leaving the workforce and 1 million fewer women are in the workforce than before the pandemic, she said.
The numbers in Iowa are equally troubling, Ms. Penney reported. Statewide, 76% of all households with children under age 6 have all parents working outside of the home. The state has 519,113 children aged 0-12 and 173,481 child care spaces available, which means that there are three children needing care for every available slot.
The women’s foundation’s statistics also show Iowa lost 28% of its child care businesses over the past five years and 56% in the past decade. Costs also have skyrocketed even as pay for the people it employs continues to lag behind all but locker room attendants and lifeguards.
The average wage for an Iowa child care worker is $10.73 an hour or $22,320 a year. Given that fast food workers make $24,230 or $11.40 an hour, “We pay people more to take care of our hamburgers,” Ms. Penney said.
The reality, the IWF said, is child care is “the workforce behind the workforce” and solutions have to be found to ensure the industry can do what needs to be done now and in the future.
Member businesses that make up her organization are working to make that happen by:
- Focusing greater attention on improving the quality of the workforce and economy through research-proven investments in children.
- Bringing “together business leaders and policymakers to help connect the dots between business success and early care and education.”
- Sharing information with its members and policymakers.
That public-private sector relationship is essential in attacking a costly problem too big and expensive for employers to tackle alone.
Ms. Penney’s organization is working to do something about that challenge through the IWF’s Building Community Child Care Solutions Collaborative. It is a network of 45 communities and more than 500 volunteers working to increase awareness and explore long- and short-term solutions.
They include helping businesses and communities open new child care centers, creating family-friendly policies and finding novel solutions to tackle their toughest child care challenges, such as child care entrepreneurs, before and after school and summer care, and child care for second and third shift workers.
Some of those things already are going on in the Quad Cities. For example, Western Illinois University’s Kristi Mindrup, vice president of Quad Cities operations, has teamed up with Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati to create a bilingual child-care center in downtown Moline that will be available on nights and weekends.
In addition to urging attendees to spread the word about problems and solutions, Ms. Penney also encouraged business and community leaders to:
- Get the facts to understand why child care matters.
- Educate business leaders and elected officials to make them aware of the problem.
- Assess your employees needs. Many times, executives say their workers have no child-care problems. But they either haven’t asked or workers stay silent because they fear it will impact their jobs.
- Develop and implement child care friendly solutions.
- Invest in child care for employees.