The benefits of good child care extend to the labor force

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Community Development Educator, Amy Greil

I spent my adolescent years as a baby sitter to cousins and neighbor kids. Then, later in my 20s, I spent years working in Europe as a live-in au pair caring for foreign kids.

So while it is true that I have never been the one seeking/paying for child care, I do know that securing quality and affordable child care is a central challenge to families.

Every family needs to find a solution that is right for them when it comes to working and/or staying home to raise children.

However, it is doubtless that there are households where an adult who is currently caring for children would prefer to work some amount if they had a good child-care option. That opening presents some possible remedies to our extremely tight labor market.

Recently released research by UW-Madison economists cites figures that indicate, if prime age (25-54 years old) female labor force participation increased to the level of male labor force participation, there would be an additional 72,000 women in the labor force in Wisconsin.

And this pool of female workers is likely relatively well-educated, given that a larger share of women than men hold a bachelor’s degree in Wisconsin’s younger cohorts.

Imagine if Wisconsin employers could hire even a fraction of the women who are not currently in the labor force due to a child-care challenge by facing the issue head-on.

Benefits abound

Good for workers. Affordable, high-quality, reliable child care gives adults with families the option to pursue work or education opportunities and thereby increase their income.

Good for employers. Enhancing child care has the potential to expand the labor force at a time when many employers are finding it hard to fill positions. Further, retaining current employees once they have children to look after can save recruitment and training costs.

Good for children. Child care is a setting for early childhood development. Quality child care can enhance early childhood development and support individual outcomes through adolescence. Several studies have shown that investments in early childhood development are linked to higher test scores and graduation rates, as well as enhanced soft skills and a lower propensity for crime.

Good for communities. Support for early childhood development, such as high-quality child care, pays dividends through widespread economic development and investments in human capital. In addition to these longer-term benefits, each dollar spent on child-care programs will get a roughly $2 return on investment as measured by income and jobs for residents.

A multifaceted issue

While available data is geared more toward the quantity or availability of child care in the state, the number of providers is just one dimension of the issue.

The most successful approaches to child care will also incorporate quality and cost.

Quality is essential for generating the childhood development benefits. Cost must be addressed so that families, many of whom have not seen real wage increases in decades, can afford this care.

Reason to hope

Already communities in Wisconsin are developing innovative solutions to child care.

In Vernon County, in southwestern Wisconsin, Organic Valley and Vernon Memorial Healthcare, with several other employers, have come together to create a shared services network.

Such an initiative demonstrates how different, progressive players can collaboratively support stronger child care at the community level.

Read the full UW-Madison economic analysis at https://cced.ces.uwex.edu.