Business Leaders Supporting Child Care: Doug Baker
Minnesota-based business leader shares how employers and legislators can work together to increase access to child care
The unprecedented challenges facing our nation since early 2020 have been unlike anything I experienced during my four-decade career in business. New problems emerged—and the urgency of solving old problems became clearer. One such issue is child care.
America was already in the midst of a child care crisis well before the pandemic began. Now, the primary and secondary effects of COVID-19 have transformed the crisis into a potential catastrophe that impacts working families and businesses in nearly every sector.
This impact should come as no surprise. The connection between child care and the economy has grown stronger over the years, and, in my role as a CEO, I witnessed first-hand the increasing importance of reliable care to the modern workforce. Today, a majority of American parents with young children work. Moreover, in 2019, 68 percent of children under age 6 had all available parents in the workforce. That’s about 15 million children nationwide.
The economic effects of this new reality are enormous. A 2019 ReadyNation national research report examining the nation’s infant-toddler child care crisis described the consequences: a staggering annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue—and that was before COVID.
Now, circumstances have worsened. Over the course of the pandemic, the child care sector has lost one in six workers. Since the sector is made up almost entirely of women, and predominantly women of color, the burden of this shortfall in workers falls disproportionately and inequitably on them.
The pandemic-fueled loss of child care workers will further impair a sector that cannot meet the overwhelming demand for its services. Nearly one-third of American parents already report difficulty finding affordable, quality child care. Availability is especially limited for families who have infants and toddlers, work evening and night shifts, or live in rural areas. Even when care is available, it is often unaffordable: the average annual cost of center-based child care for infants is more than the average cost of public college tuition and fees in 30 states.
This lack of affordable, high-quality care prevents working parents from being able to go to work with the necessary peace-of-mind to be focused, productive employees. In some cases, a lack of reliable care prevents parents from going to work at all. But this crisis also hurts the workforce of the future by depriving children of the benefits that can come from high-quality child care.
That’s because research shows that high-quality care enhances children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. For example, a longitudinal study of more than 1,300 children found that kids in higher-quality child care were better prepared for school at age 4 than children in lower-quality child care were. At age 15, the children who had experienced higher-quality care were still performing slightly above their peers and had significantly lower levels of behavior problems.
The benefits that can flow from high-quality child care are another good reason to make its expansion an essential element in getting parents back to work, rebuilding our economy, and laying the foundation for the workforce of the future. That’s why I’m pleased that Congress recently passed the American Rescue Plan, which provides significant relief for the child care sector.
However, while the American Rescue Plan did much to bolster our nation’s child care infrastructure as it buckled under the weight of the pandemic, it’s imperative that the commitment to child care endures far beyond the next several months or years. Congress must continue to prioritize consistent and sustainable investment in our nation’s child care system to ensure that all providers have the resources, flexibility, and opportunity to provide quality, affordable child care.
Policymakers should fully commit to supporting the nation’s child care sector over the long term. This commitment should include taking action to increase the quality and supply of child care in all settings, including center- and home-based settings. It would include investments such as maintaining and increasing Child Care and Development Block Grant funding, as well as strengthening child care tax provisions.
In addition, supporting businesses by making child care more affordable and accessible for employees is a must. That could include aiding employer efforts to provide child care directly and making permanent the temporary expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
It’s crucial for policymakers to find meaningful, bipartisan solutions that advance affordable access to quality child care. For the economy to stabilize and thrive, access to affordable, quality child care for working families must be a paramount concern.
Douglas M. Baker, Jr. is Executive Chairman and former CEO of Ecolab Inc. He is also a member of the ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood.
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