A lack of childcare facilities has been much discussed as one of the reasons that people are not diving back into the job market as we slowly recover from the pandemic, but a lack of childcare is not a new issue. It was an issue long before COVID-19 came calling. The pandemic has simply pushed it into the forefront.
CNBC.com ran an article in December 2020 addressing the issue, saying that “The lack of childcare workers is creating a larger ripple effect in the overall economy, keeping parents out of jobs, exacerbating broader shortages being felt in nearly every industry. Affordability is another problem for many parents, with some industry advocates looking to President Joe Biden’s economic plan that would provide government funding for preschool and daycare as a potential boost.”
Biden’s plan for nationally subsidized childcare is not new. During World War II, when women were needed in the labor market while men were on the battlefield, the government created a similar plan. “To allow more women to work,” explains history.com, “the government began subsidizing childcare for the first (and only) time in the nation’s history…An estimated 550,000 to 600,000 children received care through these facilities, which cost parents around 50 to 75 cents per child, per day (in 2021, that’s less than $12). But like women’s employment in factories, the daycare centers were always meant to be a temporary wartime measure. When the war ended, the government encouraged women to leave the factories and care for their children at home. Despite receiving letters and petitions urging the continuation of the childcare programs, the U.S. government stopped funding them in 1946.”
Locally, one company is not waiting for the government to solve the problem. An article recently ran in the Williamson Herald discussing Warhorse Venture Partners, a local real estate development firm, getting involved in the childcare business. They are working with two early education and childhood development schools – The Learning Experience and Primrose Schools — to bring more childcare facilities to Williamson and surrounding counties. The move is good for business, by offering parents affordable child care, it makes it easier for them to go back to work and fill in the worker gap in the nation and keep the economy moving forward.
Other entrepreneurs are also seeing a need to be filled, and are investing in childcare and early childhood development. This includes Neeti Agarwal, the founder of the TOBschool. TOB stands for Think Outside the Box, and that is what they will do by providing their pupils with an immersive learning program focusing on science, technology, engineering, art, and math skills. They are beginning with after-school robotics classes for four and five year olds at Aspen Grove Christian Church.
While new facilities are being built, or old ones being reopened with new owners, like Kids Kingdom Drop-In Daycare, the problem is a lack of workers. In order to keep the costs down for parents, wages are low, and the work is demanding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income is just over $25,000 per year. And it is not easy taking care of small children. Even before the pandemic, the industry was losing workers, but after many daycares shut their doors during the worst of the pandemic, many of those workers left the industry.
To help daycares and other childcare facilities find workers, the State of Tennessee is offering wage enhancement grants. According to their website, “The Child Care WAGE$® Program is an education-based salary supplement program for childcare educators employed in DHS Licensed Child Care agencies. This program provides eligible educators an annual award, issued in two parts, based on specific qualifications that include working at least six months in the same child care program with children birth to five years old for at least 10 hours a week.” The income supplement increases as hours worked increases.
Understanding that daycare is a real issue, the State of Tennessee also offers a site to help people find childcare. Click here. The site rates the daycares and lists new ones that have just opened. And in May, a bill was passed to provide state workers with childcare.
Perhaps the pandemic will finally bring the topic of affordable childcare to the forefront as the need for workers, male and female, increases and both the government and business realize that the issue can no longer be ignored if the economy is going to get going again.