Caring for Wisconsin Kids
How the infant-toddler child care crisis impacts families and businesses in Wisconsin
Employees across the state have finally begun returning to work, a welcome development after the devastation of the past year. But a crucial question remains: who will care for the children?
Child care not only provides a safe, stimulating environment for infants and toddlers, it is also a crucial consideration for parents returning to the workplace. Even prior to the pandemic, the United States was in a child care crisis.
The White House and several members of Congress have consistently cited a 2019 report by ReadyNation, a national business leader organization of which I am a member. The report found that the United States economy loses $57 billion annually in lost productivity, revenue, and earnings due to infant-and-toddler child care issues. This astounding figure also represents pre-pandemic data and has likely grown since COVID hit last year. ReadyNation also estimates that, of that $57 billion, $1.1 billion is lost in Wisconsin alone.
Employers have long known that child care, or lack thereof, is a business concern at its core. As a Wisconsin business leader, I have seen first-hand the impact of the infant-toddler child care crisis on employees in our state. As businesses have begun to reopen and employees return to their workplaces, working parents have grown increasingly concerned about who will watch their children. In our state, 54 percent of children live in “child care deserts,” meaning areas where there are three or more children per licensed child care slot. This is especially problematic in our rural areas, where child care services are more difficult to attain. The supply of care available for infants and toddlers is also particularly limited since more adults are needed to safely care for babies than older children. But, even when child care is available, it is often too expensive for most families. The average cost of child care for an infant in a center in Wisconsin is $12,552 per year, a figure significantly higher than the cost of public college tuition.
Bipartisan child care solutions focused on increasing supply for when and where parents need the care will allow parents to return to their workplaces and help businesses across the state to fully reopen. One way to increase child care availability includes increasing Wisconsin Shares Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reimbursements to providers. CCDBG subsidizes child care for families with low incomes. However, many working families living in Wisconsin’s child care deserts do not have access to quality child care. Our lawmakers should increase rates of CCDBG reimbursements for providers that are open during non-traditional hours and located in child care deserts. By increasing the reimbursement rates to reflect actual costs of care for providers in rural areas or operating during non-traditional hours, more centers and home-based caregivers will be able to operate when and where parents need them. Subsidies alone though will not fix the complex problems facing our state’s child care system. Other promising solutions on the state level would direct funding to providers to cover some basic costs, and provide bonus payments to providers who prioritize space for infants and toddlers and to providers who have earned high-quality marks on our state’s YoungStar program.
For the sake of our kids, working families, and business ecosystem, we must work together and support child care solutions so that all parents can have access to affordable quality child care and participate in rebuilding Wisconsin’s economy. We cannot afford to wait any longer.
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