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Strong child care sector will build NM economy

For the last 26 years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading a family of companies that help New Mexican families in their time of need. During that time, I’ve realized that strengthening working parents is one of the most impactful ways to grow our economy.

Supporting these crucial members of our workforce means ensuring that they have access to high-quality and affordable child care. Parents need to know while they’re working that their children are in an environment that nurtures individual growth and development.

Unfortunately, New Mexico’s child-care sector is in crisis. The global health pandemic has put immense pressure on an already-fragile child-care system, now strained on both ends. Parents desperately need these programs to go back to work, families need them as they rely on parents’ employment, and children depend on them for healthy brain development and future success. At the same time, child-care providers face complicated infrastructure, PPE and safety protocols while battling enrollment and child health issues. These additional costs and protocols exacerbate risks and liabilities and impede the very ability of providers to stay open.

A new report from the national business leader group ReadyNation spotlights the damaging impact that a lack of affordable, high-quality child care has on New Mexico’s economy and workforce. The report, “Want to Strengthen New Mexico’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis,” found there are approximately 72,500 children under age 3 in New Mexico, and 60% of the mothers of these infants and toddlers work outside the home.

As the report details, the insufficiencies of the child-care system in New Mexico harm parents professionally, economically and personally. Meanwhile, for employers, this struggling system results in reductions in revenue due to lower productivity, shorter tenures and increased hiring costs. The economic impact of child-care problems on parents and employers also reduces tax revenue.

Ultimately, the report found our inadequate child care system could cost New Mexico $570 million annually. As we navigate recovering from an economically taxing year, this is a burden we cannot bear.

Lawmakers should aim to protect and expand programs that improve the affordability, availability and quality of child care. Though New Mexico has made meaningful strides in recent years, increased investment in child-care programs is needed. The path toward an economically stronger New Mexico is the creation and implementation of effective, well-funded policy initiatives and innovations to our child-care system.

New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales summed it up best during the recent ReadyNation report-release event. He said this year has challenged Americans but these obstacles will also provide “opportunities for every single one of us to look at things not as the way they were, but as a way that they can be.”

Working parents should have access to high-quality child care for their children. Children should have access to programs designed to help them flourish in the short- and long-term. Employers should have focused, punctual and dedicated employees. We should all live in a state that has a strong economy, and whose communities and working families are thriving and successful. Investing in high-quality child care will help make those goals a reality for everyone in New Mexico.

Tom Antram is president and CEO of the French family of companies.

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