Hidden Heroes: The Case for Business Leadership on Child Care
Often, the best solution to a complex problem doesn’t have to be new or groundbreaking, but one that’s been there all along—it’s potential seen anew. We have found that potent solutions also include new leadership and diverse perspectives, and that the private sector doesn’t always realize their incredible potential for impact.
Providing affordable, accessible, and high-quality childcare options for America’s working families is one of the most effective ways we can ensure a healthy, prosperous economy. Yet, we are in the midst of a childcare crisis, and the productivity and strength of today’s workforce is threatened, as well as the quality and potential of tomorrow's. Business leadership on the issue of childcare is critical to moving the ball forward.
Over the past fifty years, we have seen dramatic changes to our workforce demographics, and with them, the ways that families handle the dual responsibilities of work and home. Today, two-thirds of children under five are living in homes where all parents work, and while the increase of women in the workforce has resulted in significant economic gains, childcare often stands in the way of their workforce participation and increased wages. High-quality childcare is a necessity that enables working parents to stay in the workforce, be their most productive at work, and continue to learn and gain the necessary skills to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
And it isn’t just our current workforce that’s at stake. We now know that the first 60 months of a chid’s life are critical for brain development—a child’s vocabulary as early as age 3 can predict third grade reading achievement. That means that getting things right the first time is not only easier, but more effective than trying to close educational gaps later in life. In order to support this critical window of development, childcare must begin with high-quality prenatal care, and early education starts at birth. Any distinction made between childcare and early education is false. Childcare is early education. With a projected skills gap of 6 million unfilled jobs by 2020, ensuring that our future workforce is prepared with the skills and social/emotional competence they need to succeed is critical for our economy, and depends on starting children off with tools for success.
Yet, for working parents today the barriers to finding and affording high-quality care are great. Childcare costs more than many in-state college tuitions averaging around $10,000 a year. That’s 64% of earnings for someone making minimum wage. Additionally, only 10 percent of providers across the country are considered high-quality, and nationwide half of all families face an undersupply of childcare options. Given these incredible barriers, it is no wonder that 70% of nonworking poor cite taking care of home and family as the reason they are no longer in the workforce. And we can’t ignore the paltry wages in this industry- averaging about $10/hour and highlighting an additional irony that the very people we depend on to care for our children can’t afford care for their own with 50% of childcare workers on some form of public assistance.
The business case for investing in childcare is clear. Businesses who support the care needs of their workers are able to better attract and retain talent, experience reduced absenteeism, and have a more productive workforce. In fact, the costs of not doing so are all too real- U.S. businesses lose $3 billion annually as the result of childcare breakdowns. And the public return on investment is high, yielding as much as $16 for every $1 spent. Just think of this as a long-term investment with returns in the form of reductions in crime and incarceration rates, increased tax revenue, more effective public schools, improved personal and public health, and more educated, skilled workers.
The business community has a critical role to play in propelling childcare to the top of the agenda in order to strengthen the workforce of today and tomorrow. That’s why we collaborated with the Center for Education and Workforce at the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation to create Leading the Way: A Guide to Business Engagement in Early Education.
So what does it mean to be a business engaged in the childcare space? This can include a range of strategies, from:
● Using your voice as a business leader to influence the public conversation and policies;
● to joining a business coalition or effort in your region that is working on this issue or adding it to the agenda of a group you are already part of;
● to taking stock of your own company policies and ensuring they fit the needs of your employees with supports such as onsite childcare, backup care, paid leave and flexible work arrangements.
The business community has the opportunity to lead the way on one of the most critical economic issues of our time. With the private sector priding itself on disrupting the norm to be at the forefront of innovation, childcare is an issue that is ripe for new leadership and takes on new urgency in the economic landscape of today and forecast of tomorrow.