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What Colorado Businesses Need to Understand About the Child Care Crisis

The state’s current child care system is decidedly bad for business


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When it comes to attracting and retaining the best workers in the nation to build a life in Colorado, the state’s current child care system is decidedly bad for business.

According to the Center for American Progress, more than half of Colorado residents live in a “child care desert.” In Denver alone, nine out of 78 neighborhoods are considered child care deserts, meaning that infants and toddlers vastly outnumber the number of licensed, quality child care providers.

This isn’t just a Denver problem. The Aspen Times recently reported that an Aspen coalition is attempting to create a tax to fund early-childhood education. This is due to the dearth of preschool options and ridiculously long waiting lists, coupled with how expensive early-childhood education programs can be from Aspen to Parachute. Steamboat Springs is experiencing similar problems with regard to child care options, availability and affordability.

No matter where you go in Colorado, the child care struggle is real. A median household in Colorado – predicted based on two incomes – would need to invest nearly 20% of their income in child care under the current system. The state ranks 23rd among all states for child care availability, with people of color facing even fewer options. This helps explain why so many parents, usually moms, opt out of the workforce, in families with more than one child. It’s just too expensive, if care is available at all.

When experienced and well-educated women to leave the workforce, it worsens the skilled labor shortage. Even though 70% of American moms work outside the home, this leaves 4.7 million women who hold bachelors or advanced degrees who aren’t working, compared with only 2 million men with the same credentials, according to a recent JLL analysis. Given the lack of quality and sheer cost of paid child care options, it’s hard to know if these women are actually making a choice to stay home or if it’s out of necessity.

Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett recently told Slate that she has found that about one-third of highly-educated – what she terms “high-potential” – American women drop out of the workforce each year. Hewlett says 74%  of these women cite the lack of quality, affordable child care as their primary reason for leaving.

A market-based approach, rooted in quality, could help bridge the fragmented U.S. child care system, especially if the state’s business community commits to taking action. Only one quarter of Fortune magazine’s “Best 100 Companies to Work For” offer at least one on-site daycare center.

Across all large companies, only a discouraging 4- 8% offer on-site daycare. It’s just not financially feasible for small, medium, and even some large companies to open on-site child care centers. Large, corporate programs often lack outdoor space, and the company often can’t create enough placements to meet parent demand. And large programs aren’t always fit for what working parents with young children are looking for.

Another way businesses can help is to offer home-based child care placements as an employee benefit. This allows children to experience a small, home-like environment with family-style meals. In-home, child care programs have fewer kids per teacher, offer tax benefits to the homeowner and have less overhead for businesses to subsidize. They offer a greater continuity of care that is proven to benefit children, with older children helping out with the infants.

It’s going to take everyone – nonprofits, the business community and the government – to transform early education so that working families can access quality care and so that educators can earn a living wage. Then we can all sleep better at night, knowing that both kids and their hardworking parents will be alright.

Erica Mackey and Beth Szymanski are the co-founders of MyVillage, an in-home child care company based in Boulder, Colorado, and Bozeman, Montana. Last month, they closed a $6 million seed round to fuel expansion in Colorado. Each co-founder is the mother of two children under 3.

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