Opinion | Grass and Roots: Investing in childcare is investing in our workforce
As more and more businesses look to solve staffing shortages, working parents are stuck wrestling with low wages and inaccessible child care options
By Christina Thor
It is common sense that working parents with young children need access to affordable
and accessible childcare in order to enter the workforce and stay employed, which makes childcare providers a vital part of local and state economies.
According to a 2020 University of Chicago Gary Becker Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics report, roughly one-third of the U.S. workforce (estimated to be 50 million workers) are working parents who have a child under 14 in their household.
Lack of affordable and accessible childcare is a pre-existing inequity across all families pre-pandemic and very little aid has supported this barrier to date. The pandemic further exacerbated these concerns for working families.
The longer the childcare crisis continues it is likely that more parents—primarily women—will need to drop out of the labor force to care for children. It is very likely that the shortage of workers and increase in the “Now Hiring” signs in our local businesses are due to parents not getting access to childcare.
Let’s be real here, the childcare crisis has driven a workforce gender gap for decades. Throughout the years, working parents and single mothers, who juggle multiple part-time jobs or aren’t getting fair wages, cannot not afford childcare rates at $1000- 2000+ per month. These barriers lead them to relying on short-term, unsustainable solutions, such as family, friends, and neighbors, who should also be getting paid for their childcare services.
Beyond financial burdens, people always seem to forget that childcare impacts two generations: parents who work to add value to our society and children who grow in an environment of healthy development and school readiness. Childcare not only has a direct impact on the economy today, but also impacts the economy of tomorrow.
Childcare solutions should not be a blanket prescription. It’s imperative that we, as a nation, achieve accessible, affordable, and equitable childcare services for our working families. The lack of culturally responsive and linguistically competent childcare is growing for communities of color, marginalized communities and working parents who work odd hours throughout the day.
We need to make sure our country’s infrastructure puts care at the center of its system to make sure childcare is affordable for low-income and middle-class working families. We need to do away with the one-size-fits-all approach and improve our childcare systems to include compensation for friends, family, and neighbors; home-based childcare; all-around-the-clock childcare; and dual language childcare. Childcare providers need to pay their workers their social and economic value— which includes a livable wage—and provide professional development, health benefits and more.
A comprehensive approach to child care solutions is needed to make sure the economy can recover from the pandemic. The time to act is now. Investing in a sustainable childcare system will empower working parents to rejoin the workforce, add value to society, pursue an education, start their own businesses and ultimately rejuvenate our economy.
Christina Thor, a Green Bay native, is the state director of 9to5 Wisconsin, a grassroots, public policy organizing organization serving working women, especially women who have or are currently experiencing workforce discrimination, through a gender justice and racial equity lens. Christina has experience in civic engagement, communications and nonprofit development throughout the Midwest. Christina is a board member of the Hmong American Partnership and member of a local immigration task force.
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