The impact of childcare on the workforce

The lingering pandemic cracked open the U.S. economy, exposing weaknesses and, increasingly, laid bare the nation’s dependence on low-wage workers living on the fringe of economic security.

Among the systemic flaws highlighted by COVID-19 is the considerable need for affordable, high-quality child care. 

“Child care continues to be one of the biggest barriers to employment for our local workforce,” says Liza M. Ochsendorf, director of Warren County Employment & Training Administration.

According to CNN, the child care industry lost one-third of its workforce at the onset of the pandemic. “If this industry falters further, it could spell trouble for the entire labor market,” the Jan. 28 article said.

Child care and workforce development organizations across the country are partnering to address that challenge.

Businesses and families benefit from quality child care programs in the community, says Liza. “The data is clear that worker attendance and productivity increases when their employees have adequate child care.”

According to the CNN report, research at Washington State University shows that child care closures disproportionately affect lower-income families. 

The pandemic exasperates a complicated issue: Child care workers usually aren’t well paid and are offered few benefits, making it difficult for them to support themselves and their families. According to a November 2021 report from the Economic Policy Institute, the average child care worker in the U.S. earned $13.51 an hour, which is about half the $27.31 an hour earned by the average U.S. worker. 

However, if providers’ wages were increased, the price of child care — already one of the largest expenses for families with children in the U.S. — would also rise, further straining household budgets.

“Parents and families need more options for affordable and quality child care,” Liza said. “For every $1 that is invested in child care, $1.86 goes back into the community. This is why it will take both private and public partners to help revitalize and sustain child care as a community necessity but also because child care is a business too.”