The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus how critical our child care system really is to Virginia’s businesses. As child care programs across the Commonwealth have been forced to reduce enrollment, cut hours, and close altogether in the wake of the healthcare crisis, parents have had to make the difficult choice between working and caring for their children. Employers are seeing the impacts of these struggles, with approximately thirty-two percent (32%) saying they have already seen employees leave since the pandemic, and half of those citing child care as the reason according to November 2020 research from the U.S. Chamber Foundation.
Those with the option of working from home are faced with the nearly impossible task of juggling their own work while caring for their kids. Meanwhile, essential workers like nurses and grocery store associates have been forced to cobble together makeshift child care arrangements in order to support their families.
As parents continue to navigate these difficult challenges, studies show that working mothers have taken on the brunt of child care responsibilities at the expense of their incomes and careers. According to recent research from the U.S. Census Bureau and Federal Reserve, of those not working amid the pandemic, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to child care demands. The health of our economy is dependent upon economic growth and a robust and growing labor force, of which working women are an essential component. The healthcare crisis has only reinforced that a strong child care system is vital to both employing and retaining women in the workforce.
While COVID-19 has shined a bright light on these systemic issues, it’s important to note that this child care crisis persisted before the pandemic began, to the detriment of families, industry, and communities more broadly. Parents have long faced affordability concerns and lack of access to quality child care, while providers and educators have been forced to operate on notoriously thin margins. A 2019 report from ReadyNation found that this ongoing crisis results in an annual cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue across the United States. These productivity problems cause employers alone to lose $12.7 billion annually due to child care challenges faced by their workforce. And these destructive impacts have undoubtedly worsened in the wake of COVID-19.
The Virginia Promise Partnership, a coalition of leading organizations and individuals committed to strengthening and expanding access to Virginia’s system of child care services, is actively working to address these long-term challenges. Our diverse coalition is composed of a strong roster of early childhood education champions like the Virginia Chamber, whose Blueprint Virginia strategic plans have consistently highlighted the importance of a strong early childhood education system to Virginia’s economic prosperity. The Partnership is working together to accomplish our bold goal of ensuring that all Virginia families have access to affordable, quality child care by 2030, regardless of income.
In an effort to gain a better understanding of how Virginians view child care issues, the Partnership conducted a statewide poll on early childhood education. The poll results show that Virginians are looking for additional public investments to strengthen access to affordable, quality child care. Of those surveyed:
- Two-thirds (67%) of parents have had their jobs negatively impacted by a lack of access to child care amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including having to take time off, reduce hours, and leave the workforce altogether.
- Eighty-two percent (82%) say expanding access to early childhood education is important to them, with thirty-nine percent (39%) of Virginians ranking it extremely
- Ninety-four percent (94%) say it is important for state and local elected officials to do more to make sure families have access to affordable early childhood education, with forty-five percent (45%) of Virginians ranking it extremely
- Sixty-two percent (62%) believe the high cost of child care is the biggest challenge facing parents and families, followed by lack of availability (19%) and low quality of care (12%).
With the vaccine rollout underway, many are seeing the light at the end of a tunnel after over a year in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we turn our focus to economic recovery and ensuring our businesses can thrive in the months and years ahead, we must act on what we have learned from the past year and leverage this newfound attention on issues with our child care system in order to build back our economy.
The Virginia Promise Partnership is answering these calls for action by charting a clear course to achieving affordable, high quality child care for all Virginia families. Over the coming months, the Partnership is developing a strategic business plan and cost-benefit analysis outlining a clear roadmap for policies and investments necessary to realize our bold goal. In parallel, the Partnership is raising up the voices of key early education stakeholders and supporters through robust advocacy and communications efforts. Through this work, the Partnership will ensure expanding access to affordable, quality child care remains top of mind amongst our elected officials and decisionmakers.
The Virginia Promise Partnership’s bold goal may be ambitious, but the stakes are high. We must strengthen our child care system – for the workforce and economy of today and tomorrow.