Romer: Child care’s unintended consequences |

Romer: Child care’s unintended consequences

Child care is a worsening problem and challenge in Eagle County. The local business community continues to express concerns on the impact of child care on employee retention and attraction, with 57% of local businesses indicating it was a “major problem” or “could be better” in our latest workforce study. Why is this an issue for the broader community?

The long-term benefits of providing affordable, quality care for the children of working parents — and by association, local businesses — cannot be overstated. The 7% to 10% return on early childhood investments create better outcomes in education, health, economic productivity and reduced crime — it makes “good dollars and sense,” according to The Heckman Equation.

Middle-skill workers are core to Eagle County’s economic stability and growth and are in short supply. Approximately 44% of Eagle County workers are considered middle-skill employees. Middle-skill jobs are generally filled by individuals with education and training beyond high school, but do not require a four-year degree. Numerous professional-level jobs fall in this category, including numerous health care, information technology, computer support, and finance industry jobs. In other words, it’s not a tourism industry problem; it is industry agnostic.

Local businesses across the industry sector are challenged to retain current workers and fill open positions. Eagle County’s unemployment rate is under 2%. This unemployment statistic only considers people looking for work or available to go to work. It does not consider individuals who have placed themselves outside the labor pool for personal, educational or other reasons. Without broadening the pool of capable workers, employers in Eagle County are in the position of recruiting employees away from other local employers. 

As a result, local child care shortages contribute to the broader workforce shortage. Limited access to child care often keeps available workers from seeking a job. It is estimated that 1,500 children are without access to the child care that would allow a parent to work. As a result, employers are ultimately paying a price for this child care supply and demand issue.

Consider the excess time, effort and money spent filling open positions in addition to the overtime pay when open positions aren’t filled and the turnover and missed days of work due to childcare issues. In its report, The U.S. and The High Price of Child Care: 2019, ChildCare Aware of America indicates 45% of parents miss work at least once over a six-month period due to child care breakdowns — missing an average of 4.3 days of work.

The good news is that business and community engagement can make a difference. Strong business and community leadership improve the inter-relationship between child care and a stable workforce by creating a broad awareness that child care is an essential service for the current and future workforce.

The business community can help guide Eagle County through the supply and demand challenges of child care as a workforce support. Businesses must recognize and assist with child care’s under-developed business model as it affects working families and child care providers because child care is too expensive for many families — averaging $2,637 a month for two children (e.g. an infant and a toddler).

Join the conversation around child care in the Vail Valley on January 28 from 3:30-5 p.m. at the Miller Ranch Community Room. Learn why this matters and how you can take steps forward in supporting local child care efforts. We’ll hear from an expert panel of human resource professionals, early childhood professionals, workforce experts, and elected officials to identify ways for the business community to engage in this effort — and positively impact your workforce in the process.

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