Pennsylvania’s child care crisis demands lasting solutions

A team of unlikely allies gathered in Erie this fall to advocate for a vital economic development tool. They did not come up with new grants, tax incentives or technology incubators, but child care services – affordable, expert and accessible.

We have long known that early childhood learning – or the lack of it – can change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Erie’s team – hospitality industry mogul Nick Scott Jr., childcare professionals and the Erie Regional Chamber and Partnership for Growth – argued that the care and Education provided in child care extends far beyond the horizons of the child to support the economy in which their parents play a vital role.

“In 2021, child care is about economic development and a roaring workforce,” they wrote.

Following:Nick Scott Jr .: Child Care and Economic Development in Erie – Time to Act

It is an awareness that is spreading across the country. The question now, even with Congressional Democrats’ transformational child care policy and pending spending in Build Back Better legislation, is whether the nation is using this moment of insight to shape lasting child care solutions. children.

Disruptions in child care during the COVID-19 pandemic caused the economy to plummet, as Erie’s team wrote.

Half of Pennsylvania employers have lost employees due to a lack of child care. Another 57% of working low-income families have reduced their working hours or quit their jobs altogether due to childcare issues, they said.

Following:Erie Voices: Childcare is an economic development

Many have blamed the improved unemployment benefits for the pandemic labor shortages. But the problem turned out to be more complex than the selfish political talking points explained.

Many child care providers were forced to shut down with closure orders early on. Once reopened, they struggled to deal with the additional costs of security measures as enrollment declined as parents chose to keep their children at home. Families had difficult decisions to make as they balanced wages against the risk of COVID exposure. Women have withdrawn from the workforce by the millions, many to take care of their children in slow motion at home.

As businesses and schools reopened and women began to return to work, the child care industry was unable to staff daycares to meet demand.

As PA projector The ranks of educators fell 8.5% between October 2019 and October 2021, from 48,100 to 44,000, according to preliminary data. A study conducted at the end of the summer by the Start Strong PA campaign found that 92% of providers report staff shortages and that nearly 26,000 children are on wait lists for services.

The suppliers, in Spotlight coverage and in the Erie Times-News, described the struggle to attract and retain a workforce.

Following:A closer look at Erie’s child care ‘crisis’ and how state officials and others are trying to address it

This is because the pandemic has done more than reveal the role of child care centers in a functioning economy. He exposed to a broader view the long-standing and untenable business model that has kept child care providers at very thin margins and too many parents struggle to pay the child care bills they do. need to work. The costs for families who do not qualify for assistance can well exceed $ 10,000 per year, while some of those providing care earn low wages. The median salary for child care workers in Pennsylvania in 2019 was $ 10.69 an hour, Spotlight reported.

The government subsidizes care for some low-income families, but too often these payments do not actually cover the costs of care. Providers cannot afford to pay competitive wages for the work, which is not menial but arguably one of the most important jobs a person can do – caring for and educating a child in their own right. first years of training. School districts, convenience stores, fast food restaurants and more offer better pay and benefits. Thus, providers are faced with unsubscribing.

An unstable workforce results in inconsistent services which then interfere with parents’ working hours, not to mention their state of mind. Even before the pandemic, the lost work and turnover triggered by childcare issues cost employers $ 2.8 billion in revenue and the state, $ 591 million in tax revenue, a declared the Foundation of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Support for child care comes through more than $ 1 billion in federal funds that Pennsylvania is deploying to increase grants to low-income families and provide one-time grants to providers. Even more money could flow with the passage of the Build Back Better legislation pending in the Senate. It aims, among other things, for a universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and grants to increase provider wages and ensure that working families do not pay more than 7% of their income for childcare. .

But those on the front lines say that funding, while welcome, is not a permanent solution. Federal legislation would expire in 2027 and depends on states to pass key provisions.

This crisis offers leaders the opportunity to come together to develop a meaningful and lasting policy that reflects the value of this sector of our economy and of family peace. Going back to a time when a parent’s income could support a family by leaving another parent free to care for the children at home is not an option. Some families have that luxury, but what employer could afford the pay increases to make this possible for most families?

Advocates have policy recommendations at their fingertips. In Erie, stakeholders are considering public-private partnerships as a way to strengthen the sector.

It’s time to see child care for what it is – an extension of the education system, our economy and our families – and support it accordingly.

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