For decades, many dismissed childcare as a family issue. The COVID-19 pandemic, which caused childcare providers to close their doors and forced parents to balance the obligations of work and watching their children, led many businesses and organizations to face the reality that childcare directly impacts the labor force of today and tomorrow.
In response to these developments, the U.S. Chamber Foundation partnered with the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) to support the expansion of high-quality, affordable childcare in communities and states across the country by establishing the Early Childhood and Business Advisory Council.
Childcare workers do the work that makes other work possible. But the work can be grueling, and burnout rates are high. Ninety-four percent of childcare providers are women, and 40% are people of color. Many cite systemic racism and sexism as major sources of stress. Workers are leaving the profession because of long hours, low wages, and inflation; some report facing food insecurity, eviction, and lack of care for their own children.
As childcare providers struggle to stay open, parents face challenges on the other side of the equation. Roughly 14 million working parents who left their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic still lack the high-quality, accessible childcare they need to return to work. These obstacles exist for workers across industries, including the nearly 20% of lower-wage workers who have yet to begin their job search because of care responsibilities.
“It’s clear how important access to quality, flexible, affordable childcare is to children, working parents, and the workforce,” explained Aaron Merchen, director of policy and programs at the Center for Education and Workforce (CEW) at the U.S. Chamber Foundation. “We are excited to partner with the Bipartisan Policy Center to support experts in early childhood education and workforce development to address the most pressing childcare challenges in their states and communities.”
The Council is comprised of chambers of commerce dedicated to prioritizing childcare in their respective states, and state and local early childhood advocates, proprietors, and state administrators. These partnerships, both between state partners and within the Council, allow for better ingenuity and networking to find solutions to a complex and evolving issue.
“This initiative is the next logical step in seeking to support states and communities in addressing their most critical childcare needs,” said Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber Foundation. “We are dedicated to strengthening the ties between the business and early childhood communities to identify shared priorities, build plans of action, and create opportunities to speak in a unified voice on one of the most demanding issues facing the country today.”
As a part of this initiative, the U.S. Chamber Foundation and BPC plan to hold virtual meetings with each regional team consisting of U.S. Chamber Foundation staff and early childhood stakeholders. The entire Early Childhood and Business Advisory Council will also convene for meetings in areas critical to developing their strategies. The two organizations also plan to note best practices and lessons learned to inform similar initiatives in the future from states not in this cohort.
“At the U.S. Chamber Foundation, we tackle some of the most crucial challenges facing the business community — those that may be holding back our economic growth and competitiveness,” said Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation, at a reception following the kickoff event. “This issue was one that the team identified and began to work on long before the pandemic — as I’m sure many of you had — but of course, the last two years have elevated the struggles to both the worker and the employer when childcare breaks down. And with the worker shortage at record numbers, it feels even more urgent. Without access to quality, affordable childcare, there can be no true recovery from the pandemic.”
Quotes from the Council
“When a woman leaves the workforce to care for children, her earnings are impacted for her entire lifetime. Not only salary is lost, but advancement opportunities, salary increases, retirement contributions, skills in fast-changing industries, networking opportunities, recognition... Most women simply never catch up. The impact to companies who must rehire and retrain when a woman leaves the field is also profound. In companies where child care benefits are available, retention of women after maternity leave is vastly improved, and these companies save money in the long run.” – Grace Decker, Missoula county collaborative coordinator, Zero to Five
“There are two issues always at hand with childcare — access and affordability. When we developed
, we chose to focus on affordability. The argument can be made that if we are going to continue to raise the level of care, raise up the childcare profession, and open up more available spots — childcare will become even more expensive. Our current system is not sustainable from an economic perspective, so cost is what we chose to focus on first. You can have the best childcare in the world, but if people cannot afford it, we’re leaving families behind.”
, director of government affairs, Grand Rapids Chamber
“Child care is the work force behind the workforce and in South Dakota, where the unemployment rate is so low already, we need every person available. Individuals in South Dakota have shown that they want to work, and we need child care in order to make this a reality. With waitlists in the hundreds, in many centers, we know that parents are looking for care to rejoin or continue to participate in the workforce. We have an unprecedented number of economic development and Chamber organizations asking about innovative strategies they may take to help with the child care crisis. Theses business are ready and willing to make changes and innovations, this initiative will only help that cause.”
, president and CEO, Kline Visioneering Group
“When it comes to Idaho, as in many other states, there are a lot of parents choosing to leave their place of employment or not enter the workforce due to the high cost or lack of availability to childcare. Employers in Idaho have taken note and are looking for multiple pathways to increase access to quality affordable care. In a state with sub 3% unemployment this benefit is critical to recruitment and retention. This issue is no different than employers engaging in supporting the retirement or health care of their employees.” –
president, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry