In these unprecedented times, it’s extremely important that we do everything we can to support our economy. As we enter the economic recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to remember that child care is an important industry in our state and is critical to that recovery. The current pandemic is profoundly connected to the child care sector, and providers are facing extreme economic hardship.
A new research report examining the economic impacts of gaps in Colorado’s child care system arrives at a chilling verdict: the infant-and-toddler child care crisis is the root cause of an annual economic cost of $2.2 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue. Colorado employers alone lose $680 million annually due to child care challenges faced by their workforce. We know that the child care crisis in Colorado imposes long-lasting consequences, affecting parents, businesses and taxpayers.
As the report demonstrates, our pre-COVID child care system didn’t meet the needs of enough Colorado children or families, or the needs of our economy. As a result, many child care providers have closed their doors in the wake of this pandemic. This is especially true for providers in rural and remote areas of our state.
Quality child care, especially for infants and toddlers, is neither easily accessible nor affordable. Those challenges compromise working parents’ job performance and professional advancement. Across Colorado, there are more than 200,000 working parents with children under age 3, and the cost of infant-and-toddler child care is simply out of reach for many of those families. In fact, infant care costs more per year than the average cost of a year of public college tuition in Colorado.
To dive deeper into the inner workings of this statewide issue, ReadyNation Colorado, a business-leader membership organization committed to building a skilled workforce by promoting solutions that prepare children to succeed, partnered with the Infant Toddler Child Care Task Force and Raise Colorado to survey working parents of children under age three in Colorado.
The survey provided evidence of the various ways in which parents’ work commitments, performance and opportunities are diminished by problems with child care. A majority of parents (79 percent) reported at least one adverse impact on their efforts or time commitment at work due to child care problems. Parents also reported diminished career prospects in one or more ways.
These issues add up over time. With less training and less experience, these parents face narrower career prospects, reducing their future earning potential. For employers, insufficient child care results in distracted employees, reductions in revenue, and increased hiring costs. A workforce with lower productivity and shorter tenure has major economic consequences.
As members of the business community in Colorado, we need to make sure our workers have the tools they need to flourish professionally and personally, to best support our local and national economy. In addition, we need to rally around policies and programs that aim to improve the employee experience. ReadyNation calls on federal, state, and local policy makers to support families’ access to affordable, high-quality infant and toddler care.
The private sector must play a role as well. It’s on us to find innovative measures like on-site child care and funding that empowers employees to access the child care of their choosing. We also need to implement other operational supports for child care providers, and advocate for sound child care policies and professional development.
To ensure that our economy grows, it’s perhaps more important than ever for policymakers and community leaders to come together to reinvent child care in Colorado to help working parents, give kids a better shot to succeed in school and life, support child care providers, and strengthen our child care workforce. Together, we can make sure Colorado’s economic future is bright.
Kevin Hougen is president & CEO of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and a member of ReadyNation. Cathy Shull is the executive director of Pro 15 and a member of ReadyNation.