Equity in Child Care is Everyone’s Business
Families across the country rely on high-quality child care programs, so that children can learn while parents work. Before the pandemic, many families — especially Black and Latino families, families with low and middle incomes, and families in rural areas — had far too little access to high-quality child care, making it challenging for them to stay in the workforce while accessing safe and nurturing learning environments for their young children.
Working parents — particularly women, parents of color, and parents who cannot work from home — have faced the tough decision to either leave the workforce or scramble to find alternative child care through relatives or unlicensed providers. Unlike K-12 public schools, in which all children are guaranteed attendance, there is no assurance that child care programs — much less high-quality ones — will be present. Some parents are wondering: “Will there be a program to go back to at all?”
Similarly, to families, child care providers, many of whom are women of color, have had to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on their business and ability to provide services. High-quality child care programs require providers to have expertise in many areas, from child development to early literacy and numeracy to social-emotional learning and more. In December 2020, 25% of child care centers and 33% of family child care homes reported that if their enrollment did not increase, and if they did not receive sufficient funding, they would be forced to close within three months.
Even before the pandemic, child care workers were among the lowest-paid workers in the nation. In 2015, more than 1 in 6 female child care workers lived below the poverty line (that’s twice the poverty rate of female workers overall), and Black and Latina child care workers with children of their own were more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line.
Before the pandemic, Black business owners already faced glaring inequities: Black Americans were less likely than White Americans to be able to start businesses and comprised only 9.4% of business owners; they were also less than half as likely to receive financing as White-owned businesses, and had particularly low access to capital. As of August 2020, 41% of Black-owned businesses had closed as a result of the pandemic and economic downturn that ensued. Since the onset of the pandemic, White business owners have been approved for Paycheck Protection Program funds at almost twice the rate of Latino business owners. According to a survey of small business owners in summer 2020, the pandemic has had a more negative impact on small businesses owned by women than on small businesses owned by men.
State and local chambers of commerce are uniquely positioned to offer urgently needed small business resources to child care providers, while also acting as a powerful connector among community leaders interested in supporting families with young children. The Education Trust and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation collaborated on interviews with child care providers and state and local chambers of commerce throughout the country that focused on these questions:
- What are the experiences, needs, and priorities of child care providers, particularly those who are women of color, as they relate to the current economic climate, pandemic, and conversations about racial justice?
- How do state and local chambers across the nation engage with child care providers, how do they perceive the role of providers in the broader business community, and what roles can state and local chambers play in supporting the child care industry, particularly business owners who are women of color
Leaders of state and local chambers across the U.S. emphasized their role as community connectors and discussed several ways in which access to child care intersects with their work. Ultimately, taking advantage of these opportunities will help families and businesses thrive, while providing young children with the high-quality learning environments they deserve.
The People We Talked to Across the U.S.
We conducted 12 in-depth interviews with state, regional, and local chambers in seven states. An emphasis was placed on state and local chambers with child care providers in their membership or as a part of their community engagement efforts. Also, 32 in-depth interviews were conducted specifically with child care providers that focused primarily on women and individuals of color were emphasized.
Key Challenge Areas Identified by Child Care Providers
What Providers Need: Funding is Among Their Most Urgent Needs Amid the Pandemic and Into the Future
Several of the providers we interviewed said they received emergency state and federal funding in 2020, such as Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and Small Business Association (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), that helped them supplement lost revenue, but without access to additional funds from federal, state, and local sources, many fear that they will be forced to close permanently in 2021.
“What child care providers need is more grant funding rather than being pushed out to pay a loan. Why are we being pushed…to get an SBA loan? A loan is long-term. Why are we being pushed into more debt when we are already in red margins?”
– For-profit, center-based provider in Washington State
How State and Local Chambers Can Respond:
Connect providers to local funding resources
While the American Rescue Plan provided states with some funding for child care stabilization, including funding for eligible child care providers, state and local chambers can offer additional resources to providers who need funding, much as state and local chambers have done for other types of small businesses throughout the pandemic.
What Providers Need: Health and Safety Resources – The Burden of Staying Safe and Keeping Others Safe During the Pandemic is Causing Providers Significant Stress
Providers placed the safety of children, staff, and parents as their top priority. A major challenge cited by those who want to remain open is helping parents feel comfortable bringing their children back to child care facilities. Some providers noted that higher-income parents were hesitant to bring their children back to child care facilities and had made alternative arrangements, such as shifting to working from home so they could care for their children, moving in with relatives who could help supervise their children, or hiring nannies.
Another major stressor for providers was the concern that some parents might not follow pandemic-related health and safety guidelines at home while their children were enrolled. Providers noted that some child care employees had left their jobs over health and safety concerns for themselves or their family members. Others left to care for their own young children, many of whom are learning remotely.
<blockquote”“[Health care providers] ask for your insurance, but I don’t qualify…When it all boils down, technically [the benefits] are not for people like me.”
– School-based provider in Louisiana
How State and Local Chambers can Respond:
Connect providers to health insurance and other benefits
State and local chambers can help providers offer their employees’ health insurance and other benefits at cost by working with qualified brokers who can set up association plans through the chamber. Chambers can also help providers setup Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements (ICHRA), through which employers can reimburse employees for some or all of the premiums they pay for health insurance that they buy on their own.
Connect providers with business health and safety resources
By raising providers’ awareness about local and state health and safety resources for small businesses, state and local chambers can help providers stay safe while also reassuring families that there are safe options for child care during the pandemic.
What Providers Need: Steady Enrollment – Many Providers’ Enrollments Have Changed Significantly
The pandemic has introduced a new layer of uncertainty to child care enrollment and has affected the child care providers we interviewed differently, with some able to sustain or rebuild their pre-pandemic enrollment levels, and others still struggling to maintain sufficient enrollment to stay open. Providers said that they might be better able to support nontraditional hours if, for instance, multiple employers joined forces to request such programs, thereby creating a critical mass that would make such services cheaper and easier to provide.
“COVID hits, I remained open, but however, I didn’t have anyone coming. The kids did not return because of the climate of COVID and people being scared. I am open still, but I don’t have any children.”
– Home-based provider in Texas
What State and Local Chamber Members Need
The COVID-19 crisis has spotlighted the inextricable link between child care and the economy and the need for adequate high-quality child care options for members of the workforce
An increasing number of employers have come to view child care as an economic issue, after watching their employees juggle work and parenting responsibilities over the last year and struggle to maintain productivity as the pandemic forced many schools online, many child care programs to close, and reduced other child care options.
Industries can support employees who work nontraditional hours by investing in child care
Acquiring and retaining talent in industries that require night and weekend shifts, such as manufacturing, health care, and oil and gas, is challenging, since family members ability to work nontraditional schedules is contingent on having child care during those work hours. When child care providers and their staff receive more funding and higher compensation, they can better support the unique needs of their community.
Although many state and local chambers across the U.S. recognize that the demand for child care exceeds the supply in their communities, their primary focus remains on workforce development for the general population of small to large businesses in their communities.
How State and Local Chambers Can Respond:
Expand membership outreach
Most child care providers we interviewed weren’t aware of or connected to their local chambers, and most state and local chambers reported that providers are not among their members. State and local chambers can conduct targeted outreach to interested providers, highlighting chambers’ role and the resources they can provide to members.
List resources on chambers’ websites to help connect child care supply with demand
State and local chambers could post resources on their websites, tailored to their communities, with information for providers, chamber members, and other community stakeholders such as families.
Offer networking and marketing opportunities
Several providers said they would like to build partnerships and connections with their communities but often are unsure where to start. State and local chambers can create opportunities for providers to connect with chamber members and community leaders, like local financial institutions, business advisers, and community members offering professional development opportunities.
Educate employers about the critical role of child care in workforce development
State and local chambers have an opportunity to educate employers about the economic benefits of child care and help spur investments in it.
What Providers Need: High-Quality, Long-Term Employees – Hiring And Retaining High-Quality Staff Was Always a Challenge, But It Has Been Especially Difficult During the Pandemic
Providers said they’ve had particularly high turnover amid the pandemic, as more workers evaluate low industry wages and a lack of professional development opportunities against heightened health and safety concerns. Meanwhile, providers who have managed to retain staff are grappling with furloughs, closures, and reduced hours. Access to high-quality, strategic professional development is limited for many providers, and, thus, may be a barrier to long-term industry growth.
“Staffing has been a challenge. When we had to add [eight new] staff, it took a while to hire them all. You are still looking for additional staff. You need to train them. Finding and training additional staff. As you probably know there is already a national crisis in staffing for child care…When you do find them, they are coming without prior experience or training in child care.”
– Center-based, non-profit provider in Delaware
Professional development challenges
Families of young children must have access not just to child care, but to high-quality child care, which means providers and their staff must receive ongoing professional development to hone their expertise and build new skill sets. Unfortunately, access to high-quality, strategic professional development is limited for many providers, and thus, may be a barrier to long-term industry growth.
How State and Local Chambers can Respond:
Recognize that legislators play a key role in creating and implementing long-term child care solutions and that state and local chambers can have an advocacy role
Some state and local chambers expressed an interest in helping to raise legislators’ awareness about child care needs through state and local advocacy work. State and local chambers can help advocate for expanded child care access and supports to increase program quality, such as professional and workforce development resources.
Connect providers with one another and convene meetings
State and local chambers can provide ways for providers to connect with one another and facilitate community-building among providers.
Five Ways State & Local Chambers Can Support Working Families by Supporting Female Providers of Color
Share Resources and Information
Share resources and information with providers about funding opportunities, health insurance, and COVID-19 related health and safety resources for small businesses. State and local chambers frequently share these types of resources with local small businesses, and providers are often searching for such resources but have difficulty finding them.
Strengthen Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives
Strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, including leadership and professional development opportunities for female providers of color. State and local chambers can proactively invite female providers of color to join their organizations and other networks. They can provide information about business coaching and mentorship programs specifically designed to support small businesses owned by women and people of color.
Offer Networking & Marketing Opportunities
Offer networking and marketing opportunities for providers and employers. State and local chambers can create opportunities for providers to connect with chamber members and community leaders, such as those from local financial institutions, business advisers, and community members offering professional development opportunities, higher education resources, and marketing and growth strategy supports.
List Child Care Resources and Referral Information
List child care resources and referral information on existing state and local chamber websites to better connect child care supply with demand. State and local chamber websites often offer a multitude of resources for the local business community. Chamber leaders can help to align child care supply and demand by listing local providers, availability, and services on these websites, including specialized programs for nontraditional work schedules, so employers and families can more easily find child care programs that meet their needs and preferences.
Communicate Child Care Needs to State and Local Representative
State and local chambers can advocate for policies that support child care providers, parents and, ultimately, children in their communities by giving them a strong start. Female providers of color can join chamber members in advocating for policies that will boost access to high-quality child care that all children and families deserve.
About This Report
State and local chambers of commerce are uniquely positioned to offer urgently needed small business resources to child care providers, while also acting as powerful connectors among community leaders interested in supporting families with young children. The Education Trust and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation interviewed child care providers and state and local chamber leaders across the U.S. to identify opportunities for supporting working families with young children by supporting female providers of color. Childcare Providers shared they have faced funding challenges, safety and health concerns, and barriers to talent acquisition and professional development. Several providers reported that racial and gender bias has posed challenges within their local business community. Many said they felt less supported than other businesses due to their race. Leaders from state and local chambers shared the challenges they and their business members are facing during the pandemic. This report describes these challenges and opportunities and offers recommendations for how state and local chambers of commerce can support working families by supporting female providers of color.