Investing in Wisconsin's Child Care Sector
High-quality child care for infants and toddlers will help strengthen Wisconsin's workforce
It’s no secret that this past year has been a major challenge for us all. While we look to the future with the hope of pandemic relief and vaccinations, we must also grapple with our current situation. The pandemic has caused significant unforeseen damage to our most basic and necessary systems, like small businesses, schools, and child care.
Even prior to COVID-19, our child care system was on thin ice. Child care services, whether they’re center- or home-based, operate in the small business community with tiny profit margins. Yet, their impact is immeasurable. The public health crisis has only exacerbated these profit concerns. COVID-19 forced many providers to shutter, and they may never reopen. Others that were able to reopen now operate at lower capacity to comply with safety guidelines. Without sustained investment in the sector, a bad situation could become dire.
The sector’s health is critical for our nation. Child care allows kids a safe place to learn and grow during some of their most crucial early years. Working parents across the country also depend on high-quality, affordable child care to return to work.
A report by ReadyNation, a national network of business leaders of which I am a proud member, explains that an overwhelming 86 percent of working parents are impacted negatively at work due to child care issues. The same report highlighted the fact that the infant-and-toddler child care crisis costs the U.S. economy an astounding $57 billion each year in lost productivity, earnings, and revenue, including $1.1 billion from Wisconsin alone. With these harrowing statistics, the child care crisis could very quickly turn into an economic crisis.
In March, I joined another ReadyNation business leader and former Mayor of Green Bay, Paul Jadin, along with a child care provider, and a working mother on a webinar event to release the aforementioned report. The provider and mother impactfully explained the severe nature of the on-the-ground situation. Child care providers are turning parents away every week because they simply do not have the resources or staffing to care for more children. And the lucky families who are able to obtain care are spending several thousands of dollars per year to ensure that their kids are safe and well-taken-care-of during the work day.
The American Rescue Plan allocated a historic amount of relief funding to the child care system. This temporary support is so vital to the providers that care for our youngest Wisconsinites. While I am deeply heartened by this federal support, we now need to look to the future. These stop-gaps should enable us to get on the other side of the pandemic, but what will the child care sector look like post-COVID?
We need long-term solutions. Child care is and must be considered crucial infrastructure for our country. Without it, our workforce and economy as a whole are at risk. Child care has taken an unprecedented hit, and it will require bipartisan cooperation to preserve and strengthen the sector. I urge our legislators to continue their good work as we look ahead and make strategic investments in child care as a national priority. Our children and economy depend on it.
Dr. Dean Gruner, MD, MMM, is the former President & CEO of ThedaCare. He is a member of ReadyNation and resides in Appleton.
Read More About