As Americans begin to look forward to resuming “normal life,” thousands of employees across the country will now be returning to their respective workplaces. While this is certainly encouraging after the challenges of the pandemic, a significant hurdle remains between us and normalcy: child care. Issues with our child care system existed before COVID, and the reasons for the lack of affordable care persist – and have likely gotten worse.
Child care providers not only give children a safe, nurturing environment for early education and social-emotional development, but they also give parents the peace of mind to be focused and productive at work. Without affordable, reliable and quality child care, parents will be unable to return to work. This is especially true for parents who live in rural areas or work non-traditional hours.
Business leaders understand that, without reliable child care, the economy suffers. A new report from ReadyNation, a national business leader organization, found that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women’s employment, with female workforce participation at its lowest rate in more than 30 years. The report further found that a lack of child care was an important driver of women exiting the workforce. A 2019 report by the same group revealed the infant-toddler child care crisis alone costs the U.S. economy $57 billion each year in lost productivity, revenue and earnings, including an estimated $570 million in New Mexico.
As a former employer, I continue to grow increasingly concerned about the lack of child care during this already uncertain time. Affordable quality child care is a major barrier in the recruitment and retention of talented employees. In the wake of the pandemic, we desperately need a skilled workforce to ensure that we are able to recover and strengthen our economy for years to come. Now is the time for us to make investments that can help ensure that every child has the opportunity to meet his or her potential and that parents can return to work.
I am thankful that child care has been a recent focus of our federal lawmakers, but they must take swift action to improve the early childhood sector. They can do this by increasing public investments in all types of care, like home and center-based care, and by helping businesses to create solutions that provide parents with flexible care options through expanding and updating tax credits and pre-tax flexible spending accounts. A recent survey, commissioned by ReadyNation, of over 400 senior business leaders found that, while about two-thirds of employers expressed strong willingness to expand child care resources for their employees, many cited barriers to doing so. The majority of respondents said that government partnership would increase the likelihood that their company could and would expand the child care supports offered to employees.
We all have a responsibility to work towards making child care more affordable. Our New Mexico state leaders have recognized the severity of the child care crisis and have increased investments in New Mexico’s child care system, but there is still work to be done. Strengthening access to affordable child care will ultimately affect us all. Business leaders are ready to come to the table to help solve the child care crisis. For the sake of our economy, we cannot forget the needs of our working parents and their children.