Romer: Child care and the economy
Early childhood education has emerged as a critical issue for many in the business community, with a growing number actively supporting early learning initiatives. The Early Childhood Education Initiative provides a national template on early learning as an investment in workforce development can be adapted to Eagle County to meet our community needs.
Early childhood education and child care are not the only issues in our region. Early childhood education is a national issue like housing, workforce, health care, and transportation.
Despite the myriad benefits resulting from high-quality child care, many families struggle to find viable options for their children. In 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation conducted studies in four states — Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania — to better understand the size of the child care problem in those communities. The report estimated that each state lost hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity due to breakdowns in child care.
Following that report, the U.S. Chamber Foundation last week released five new reports in its “Untapped Potential” series, examining the impact of child care challenges on the state economies of Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Missouri, and Texas. The studies reveal that addressing child care breakdowns would unlock anywhere from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars’ worth of economic potential for states, employers, and working parents.
The results indicate tremendous untapped economic potential in each state if child care challenges are solved. The economic potential, workforce impacts, and benefits to children impact the community.
While we are not Alaska or Missouri or Idaho or Pennsylvania, we can learn from other states on how to address community challenges. National data can then be combined with more localized information such as the Regional Assessment of Early Childhood Care produced by Northwest Colorado County of Governments.
NWCCOG’s analysis of the systems, strengths and opportunities in our region identified three major barriers which must be addressed to ensure each family has options for securing high-quality care for our youngest community members: Affordability, capacity, and fit. Addressing these challenges, local innovations from businesses, policymakers, and child care leaders are driving change for our communities.
Vail Valley Partnership believes that child care is a two-generation workforce issue because it is essential to supporting the workforce of today and vital to developing our workforce of tomorrow. Child care has continued to resonate as a major community issue when talking to our business members.
Why should businesses care? There is simply not enough access to affordable, quality child care which makes it difficult for parents trying to enter, re-enter, or stay in the workforce. The pandemic exacerbates existing issues in the child care system and creates an impossible situation for parents, employers, and child care providers. There are working parents who struggle to balance home child care and work, children who miss valuable educational opportunities, child care providers who are fighting to stay open and serve their communities, and employers wondering how and when their employees with children can return to work.
It has become clear that successful solutions can only be reached by jointly addressing gaps across affordability, access, flexibility, and quality. This requires public and private cooperation and working together to meaningfully address early childhood as part of our workforce development and community programming. It’s not a “feel-good” initiative; it is a necessity for our community.
A top public policy priority of the Vail Valley Partnership is to amplify the voice and needs of employers on community issues including early childhood. We encourage business owners and operators to continue to engage to help build a better community.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com.