To recruit and retain Georgia workers, more investment in child care is crucial
By Guest Columnist ELLYN COCHRAN, president and chief executive officer of Quality Care for Children
As workforce recruitment and retention remain a challenge in our post-pandemic reality, it is clear that ensuring access to quality, affordable child care can be a big part of the solution.
The high price of child care has long been a burden for most families in Georgia. And since the start of the pandemic, these costs have only increased. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is affordable if it costs no more than 7 percent of a family’s income. In Georgia, this means only 16.8 percent of our families can afford infant care, which costs, on average, more than $8,500 per year.
Because of the high cost of care, Georgia’s workers, especially lower-income workers, sometimes must choose between missing shifts or making sure their children are safe. In a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year, half of all workers and nearly 60 percent of parents cite lack of child care as their reason for leaving the workforce.
Providing affordable child care to retain and recruit employees just makes sense. President Biden agrees and has recently announced plans to require computer chip manufacturers to receive federal dollars to make child care available to their workers. This new mandate of the CHIPS and Science Act will require companies seeking awards of $150 million or more to guarantee affordable, high-quality child care for employees.
Building on the momentum of Georgia’s booming technology sector, the CHIPS Act solution, or something similar, is an innovative way to ensure working parents have access to quality child care and could prove to be an incredible opportunity to reinvest in and strengthen our early childhood system.
COVID-19 only exacerbated the challenges that existed with access to child care. Now is the time to think strategically about how to both stabilize child care in Georgia and ensure access. We have hard-working, deeply committed early care and learning providers who need support to pay decent wages to retain their own staff and keep their classrooms open.
While these designated funds could be used to build child care centers near our manufacturing companies, we could also ensure that our families have access to quality child care that works for them. For many families, this means subsidizing the cost of care within their communities in center-based or family child care where they are most comfortable. It also means building the capacity of existing providers to offer care during shift hours that may be overnight or on weekends, needed for so many of our manufacturing companies and essential workers.
Georgia-based companies, philanthropy partners and individual donors have supported Quality Care for Children’s Boost scholarship program as one way to ensure child care access is driven by family choice. Boost ensures parents needing care for infants and young children (ages birth until eligible for Georgia Pre-Kindergarten) receive high-quality early care and pay no more than 10 percent of their average weekly income.
Providing scholarships that parents can use at providers of their choice also helps to maintain or increase enrollment within community-based child care providers, maximizing revenue that can be used to provide quality for all children in the setting. It also strengthens the diverse network of providers within a community, maintaining a network of small business owners throughout the state.
We have the chance to use these federal funds to build and invest in a child care system that meets the needs of children, families, and the broader economy. The chip manufacturing companies receiving federal funds can be early adopters of a practice that puts families at the center of building a stronger Georgia.
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