If Kentucky is going to succeed in growing its workforce and helping employers fill the state’s 130,000 vacant jobs, we need an ambitious strategy focused on attracting skilled workers and removing barriers to work. A key component of that strategy should be expanding access to affordable, quality child care. While child care is a complex issue, addressing these challenges can have significant benefits for both working families and employers struggling to fill open positions.
The challenges that come with a lack of affordable and accessible child care are obvious to employers and any parent who has struggled to find safe, reliable care for their child. Simply put, if a parent is unable to find child care that fits their family’s needs, then they probably can’t work. Survey data shows us that families are forced to make decisions like this all the time, which limits their economic potential and makes hiring and retention even harder for employers.
A national survey of working parents and employers by the Bipartisan Policy Center in December 2022 found that almost four in 10 working parents with young children have quit a job due to child care responsibilities. One in three reports leaving the workforce altogether at some point because of child care and 56% say child care has factored into a decision on whether to accept a job.
Among Kentucky parents, 26% report quitting a job to stay home and provide care for their child, according to a recent survey by the Prichard Committee and United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
Addressing child care challenges should be a top priority for state policymakers, who will need to grapple with a major drop in federal funding in next year’s budget session. But employers should act as well and consider strategies to assist their workers with child care challenges.
Fortunately, a new program called the Employee Child Care Assistance Partnership can help with this. Through this program, employers can partner together with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to assist working parents with the cost of quality child care. If the employer agrees to contribute towards an employee’s child care costs, the Cabinet can match the contribution on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Employers have an opportunity to double the size of an employee benefit, while working parents can reduce their out-of-pocket child care expenses.
While the Employee Child Care Assistance Partnership is especially targeted at small and mid-sized businesses, larger firms might consider federal incentive programs such as the Employer-Provided Child Care Tax Credit. This program can help offset the cost of providing on-site child care or contracting out child care services to a third-party provider.
Offering child care benefits can produce a strong return on investment for employers. The Bipartisan Policy Center survey from last December showed that 85% of working parents would find it helpful if their employer offered a benefit to help them pay for child care; 79% said on-site child care would be helpful; and 80% said assistance finding child care would be helpful.
However employers wish to get involved, the Kentucky Chamber has produced several resources to get started. Materials on the Employee Child Care Assistance Partnership as well as other resources designed for Kentucky employers can be found on the Chamber’s website (kychamber.com).
While we work with state policymakers to increase access to quality child care and early childhood education, Kentucky business leaders should know that there are resources available to empower their engagement in this key workforce issue and that the Chamber is here to support them.
Ashli Watts is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber.