Cheryl Oldham Cheryl Oldham
Former Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Former Vice President, Education & Workforce Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


March 01, 2022


Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and The Education Trust released "Equity in Childcare is Everyone's Business," which examines the importance of addressing the negative impacts of sexism and racism on the childcare industry and proposes ways in which state and local chambers, in partnership with child care providers, can address those issues while supporting children and families.

The report highlights the experiences that childcare providers of color, especially women, have had before and during the pandemic. The findings emphasize the importance of these businesses to working parents across the country and how state and local chambers of commerce can support their success.

This report provides an important opportunity to discuss these critical topics, particularly the significance of the interconnections between business and childcare, and grapple with how we can best support working families, employers, and providers moving forward.

The Connection Between Business and Childcare

Childcare centers shuttered in the early stages of the pandemic, leaving millions of parents struggling to participate in the workforce. While some parents managed to remain in the workforce through a combination of support, employer flexibility, and luck, many could not; 700,000 parents with young children left the labor force in 2020, largely because of childcare difficulties. In a separate study of parents who left the workforce, 58 percent say they did so because they were unable to find suitable childcare arrangements. The labor shortage continues to worsen as employers struggle to fill their job openings, while many of the 14 million working parents who left their jobs still lack the high-quality, accessible childcare they need to return to work. These obstacles are present for workers across industries, including the nearly 20 percent of lower-wage workers who have yet to begin their job search because of care responsibilities.

Providers' Success is Our Success

The report shows that the pandemic created a vicious cycle preventing a fuller recovery; to return to work, workers need reliable childcare, but providers are facing immense challenges themselves. The pandemic forced many childcare providers to close or scale down: between February and April 2020, the industry lost 370,600 jobs — 95 percent of which were held by women. Unfortunately, the recovery has not been swift; as late as September 2021, childcare industry employment remained 10 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels. Our economy relies on these providers to function; we must support them because a healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce—including working parents.

Additionally, 94 percent of providers are women, and 40 percent are people of color. Systemic racism and sexism create an added burden, and many providers of color reported feeling undervalued or feeling as though they had to work harder to combat prejudice about their race. One Black provider from Tennessee noted: "Some people think your program is sub-par although they can't find it to be true... We have minimized the fact that it is African-American owned. We try to kill the myth that a lot of folks have that they judge the quality of the school based on the color of the students' skin in the school."

The labor shortage continues to worsen as employers struggle to fill their job openings, while many of the 14 million working parents who left their jobs still lack the high-quality, accessible childcare they need to return to work.

Many other providers echoed the sentiment that some fail to take them seriously because they are women and/or people of color. Providers need anti-racist and anti-sexist support from the local business communities and clients they serve.

Going Forward

We must engage in targeted action to support women of color in the childcare industry, leading to improved outcomes for working families and the economy. The report provides solutions on how to uplift childcare providers, working parents, businesses, and everyone in between. Here are some important takeaways:

  • State and local chambers can engage in outreach to female childcare providers of color to provide them with vital business support, like resources for health insurance and marketing.
  • To address systemic discrimination such as racism and sexism, chambers can strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, including leadership and professional development opportunities for providers of color. As the report argues, actively soliciting input from providers of color—and listening to their voices—can be a critical first step in creating an equitable childcare system.
  • Finally, cross-sector approaches are integral to effecting change. We must educate policymakers about the challenges faced by female childcare providers of color and work toward solutions that improve outcomes for providers, working families, and businesses. Our economy desperately needs this collaboration.

Learn more about the Center for Education and Workforce's Early Childhood Education work. Learn more about The Education Trust's education work here.

About the authors

Cheryl Oldham

Cheryl Oldham

Cheryl A. Oldham was senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and vice president of education and workforce policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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