Economic Rebound Tied to Quality Child Care
Laurie White is president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. Liz Catucci is president/CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
Child care is a business issue. We fully realize this basic fact impacts the daily lives of so many Rhode Island working families, the bottom line of our employers and our state’s overall economy.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, finding affordable, quality child care was difficult, with the average Rhode Island family paying over $10,000 per year for those lucky enough to find a provider. Between work hours, rearing young children and struggling to find reliable child-care options, many parents found it difficult and stressful to balance career and family. This juggling act has very real impacts on the productivity of our workforce. Indeed, according to a study by ReadyNation, a lack of child-care options is costing the U.S. economy $57 billion per year in lost earnings, productivity and revenue.
And then the pandemic struck.
With schools and many child-care programs initially closed due to COVID-19, child rearing responsibilities overwhelmingly fell to working mothers. For those able to work remotely, balancing the needs of an active toddler with work Zooming was difficult. For essential employees in services industries where women are the majority of the workforce and where remote work was not a possibility, a lack of available child care meant women often had to choose between their jobs and their children.
According to a recent national survey by the University of Oregon, 33% of working caregivers were forced to leave the workforce or reduce their work hours since the pandemic began, with the greatest burden falling on women and Black and Latino households.
This has been referred to by many economists as a “shecession,” with lasting impacts for women who have lost jobs, lost income and retirement contributions, and generally had their careers derailed due to a lack of child-care options.
At the same time our workforce has dealt with the impacts of the pandemic, so too has Rhode Island’s child-care sector. Most child-care programs and providers are themselves small independent businesses. With increased costs to comply with health and safety regulations, combined with decreased enrollments with parents reluctant to send their children back to group settings, many child-care providers are on the brink.
Fortunately, thanks to the work of our congressional delegation, Rhode Island’s child-care sector is receiving $90 million in stimulus funds to support providers so they can remain open to serve working families as they reenter the economy.
Longer term, an adequate supply of providers ensures employees don’t need to reduce hours or take time off due to a lack of child care.
This means a combination of state and federal investments in our child-care sector and early-learning options such as Head Start and pre-kindergarten classrooms. Fortunately, there are a number of proposals and budget investments before the General Assembly that would do just this, as well as grow our state’s workforce.
Child care is a critical part of the fabric that supports a stable workforce for Rhode Island’s employers. Just like roads and bridges, child care gets people to work. We need to invest in that infrastructure as well as foster a vibrant and competitive business environment overall.