Posted: 4/17/2022 6:01:35 am
Modified: 04/17/2022 06:00:17
It would be unseemly to attribute a silver lining to something as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, but the havoc it unleashed has undoubtedly made it urgent to address long-standing social and economic problems, not least the acute lack of high-quality resources. in the country. , affordable child care.
As many Upper Valley parents can attest, finding the right kind of child care they could afford was more of a challenge even before the pandemic hit. When it happened, many people found it necessary to stay home from work to care for their children; rearrange work schedules with a spouse to provide coverage; or enlist family members to help.
The critical shortage of workers that the economy is currently experiencing is a result, at least in part, of the fact that potentially productive employees are marginalized by the lack of child care.
The human resources director for Sturm, Ruger & Co., the firearms manufacturer in Newport, told the New Hampshire Bulletin late last year that while the company was able to hire 100 new employees in 2021, it missed out. 40 strong candidates who converted turned down job offers when they realized that finding child care would be next to impossible.
The economic effects on families are just as pronounced. Paying $20,000 or $25,000 a year for child care takes a toll on even a healthy income. And, of course, that’s not to mention the possible delayed social and educational development of children who are missing out on skillfully provided child care.
Vermont is estimated to need nearly 9,000 more spaces for young children than are available; Before the pandemic, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the 34,000 licensed child care locations for children under the age of 6 represented only 60% of the number needed. While the number of licensed locations in New Hampshire has since increased, experts note that not all of those locations may be available due to staffing shortages or other issues experienced by providers.
There is even bipartisan agreement in Congress—we are tempted to insert an exclamation point here—on the need to beef up the system. Democrats and Republicans agree on some elements of smart child care policy, The New York Times reported last week. They include: Providing parents with a choice between different settings, such as home care or private settings; offer year-round care, including for parents who don’t work traditional shifts; limit child care tuition to 7% of income for eligible families, while covering the cost in full for the poorest parents; strengthen educational opportunities for child care workers; and invest in the opening of new facilities and the renovation and improvement of existing ones.
That’s kind of encouraging, but our advice is don’t hold your breath waiting for the feds to figure this out. There are big differences between the parties on the scope of the policy and how it should be paid.
Closer to home, there are some promising efforts that could be emulated. The city of Lebanon, for example, offers childcare stipends to attract and retain employees; Hanover’s Kendal Retirement Community has provided on-site childcare for employees since it opened 30 years ago; both the city of Lebanon and Sturm, Ruger & Co. say they are offering employees flexibility in scheduling to help them cover childcare responsibilities. Vital Communities, an Upper Valley nonprofit, has targeted child care as a focus in its economic development efforts.
However, the supply side of the equation depends on the availability of qualified child care workers. The legislatures of both states must pay special attention to their hiring and training.
As with so much vital and demanding work in the United States that is performed largely by women, childcare is undervalued and underpaid. The median hourly wage for child care workers nationally is just $12. Simply put, until the pay improves significantly, neither will the availability, affordability, or quality.