Home » Op-Ed: KY must increase investment in child care and preschool to meet future workforce needs, economic stability

Op-Ed: KY must increase investment in child care and preschool to meet future workforce needs, economic stability

by Susan Elkington, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky
Susan Elkington, president of TMMK

These statistics hit home for me: 3.5 million mothers with school-age children lost jobs, took leaves of absence, or exited the job market completely during the pandemic, according to a Census Bureau analysis.

A survey of Kentucky families indicated that between March and December 2020, 46 percent quit jobs, declined jobs, or greatly changed their jobs because of child care issues.

And a report from McKinsey consulting firm stated that one in three women thought about leaving their jobs or cutting back on their careers in the last year. School reopening hasn’t made a significant dent in those statistics with the delta and omicron variants adding uncertainty and stress to parents’ schedules.

The pandemic has hit the workforce hard, particularly for mothers. But in Kentucky, the pandemic exacerbated existing problems – ones that we must work diligently to fix if we are to reverse years of being among the worst states for labor participation rates.

The biggest obstacle to getting people back to work – especially working mothers – is a lack of quality, affordable childcare that supports their work schedules. That’s why Toyota has an on-site child development center. But many employers, especially small business owners, are unable to offer that benefit.

Child care for an infant in Kentucky can cost a single parent over a third of his or her income. For a married couple with two children, costs would still be 18 percent of household income.

The lack of accessible, affordable, quality child care yields crippling results for Kentuckians. It accounts for $573 million in lost earnings, business productivity and tax revenue.

Kentucky must make the investment so businesses can hire needed employees, and our youngest learners will have a foundation for success in school.

A ReadyNation survey of more than 400 senior business leaders found that two-thirds of employers would like to expand child care support post-COVID, but many cited barriers to doing so. The majority of respondents said federal or state government incentives would increase the likelihood that their company would expand child care resources.

Expanded early childhood education returns at least $5 in public and private benefits for every dollar invested. A 2019 White House report found that the high price of child care is often cited as a major barrier keeping parents of young children from being able to work. This decreases family incomes and increases dependence on welfare programs.

When quality child care is either non-existent or unaffordable for working parents, Kentucky’s already low labor participation rate is hampered even further. The solution is clear. We must renew our commitment and double down on efforts by increasing investment in child care and preschool across the state.

The Prichard Committee submitted a 6-year investment plan to the General Assembly which includes phased in investments in childcare and preschool. The proposal for this biennium includes:

  • $135 million to provide child care assistance to 23,000 more young children with family incomes below 200% of poverty. Increased reimbursement rates and incentives would be provided for serving infants, toddlers, and young children in high-quality child care centers and family care providers; and
  • $45 million to provide preschool to 10,000 additional 4-year-olds with family incomes below 200% of poverty, including a dedicated grant fund to encourage partnerships between public preschool and private childcare.

Increased investment in early childhood learning opportunities will improve the quality of these programs and increase access to childcare by making it a more economically feasible business to run.

The impact is far-reaching beyond the four walls of a home or classroom. Lack of early learning opportunities are both a short-term and long-term threat to our work force and economy. With the economy showing signs of strength, now is the time for the General Assembly to show that support for workers and Kentucky’s littlest learners is a priority by ensuring increased investment in early childhood in the final biennial budget.

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