Solving the child care problem could help solve worker shortage

At a time when companies are desperate to fill job openings, one statistic stands out sharply in a new statewide child care poll.

Sixty percent of Ohio moms who either don’t work or work part-time said they would go back to work if they had access to quality child care at a reasonable cost, according to the poll commissioned by Groundwork Ohio, a nonprofit that advocates for early childhood care and education.

“That’s really stunning. These are not small numbers,” said Shannon Jones, Groundwork president and CEO. “There’s no doubt that child care is an economic issue. Parents understand it’s key to their economic success. But really, all voters understand that it is the key to economic success.”

Seventeen percent of those asked disagreed that access to child care would cause them to go back to work and the remaining 23% had no opinion.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies surveyed 800 registered voters with an oversample of 400 parents with children under the age of five in Ohio. It included nearly equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents. Fifty-five percent of respondents were women and 45% were men.

The poll found that parents are struggling to balance work with child care responsibilities, Jones said, and are concerned about meeting the mental health needs of children amid the stress and upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eighty-one percent of those polled said the pandemic has put stress on them and their family, and 87 percent said it has stressed the mental health of kids in Ohio.

The poll also found that in the past few months:

  • 43% of people cut back work hours to care for children.
  • 37% missed work, left early or lost focus due to child care challenges.
  • 25% had serious problems affording child care.
  • 35% faced serious problems meeting work and family responsibilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic drove huge numbers of women out of the workforce in Ohio and nationally during the pandemic. Nearly 1.9 million fewer women were in the workforce last year compared to 2019.

Many have not returned, and experts say that is often due to the need to care for children at home because of concern they will catch COVID-19, quarantines caused by exposure to COVID-19 at school, cutbacks at child care facilities, and problems finding affordable, quality child care.

Help is on the way for child care providers. This month the state began accepting applications for $150 million in federal pandemic relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act approved in March for child care programs to help them stabilize operations and defray costs associated by the pandemic.

Last week the Ohio legislature agreed to use another $659 million in federal pandemic-relief funding to help child care centers stay open, but at the same time suspended quality rating criteria for child care facilities used by people on public assistance.

“There simply aren’t enough slots for a low income person who is trying to get child care,” state Sen. President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said at a news conference following the vote.

Suspending the quality criteria for a year will allow people on public assistance to send their kids to unrated church child care and other providers, he said.

Jones, a Republican and former state lawmaker, and some Democratic Party leaders have called for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to veto the quality rating suspension, saying public money shouldn’t be used to pay providers who do not offer quality programs.

“Retreating on the quality elements that we know support our most vulnerable children is not something we should be doing,” said Jones, who’s now a Warren County commissioner.

DeWine’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Broader child care help is proposed in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, approved by the U.S. House and now being considered in the U.S. Senate. It would boost funding to directly help parents with the cost of child care and provide free preschool.

“Our hope is this study will inform federal policymakers as they are thinking about parents, children and the economy,” Jones said.

The Groundwork Ohio poll found strong support for early childhood education for pre-kindergarten age kids.

Seventy-four percent said early childhood is the most important educational experience of a child’s life and 79 percent said support for early childhood education would be a “top factor” in their decision to vote for a candidate for public office.

“Our children are our future,” said a poll respondent identified as a male, strong Republican from Warren County. “Invest in them early in life to give the best possible start and chance to succeed.”

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Child Care Resources - Dayton region

Preschool Promise - 937-329-2700

4C for Children - 937-220-9660

Miami Valley Child Development Centers - 937-236-7655

Montgomery County Job and Family Services - 937-496-7759

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