This commentary is by three Chittenden County business leaders: Carina Hamel, co-founder of Bivo; Aba Grace, chief operating officer at Hula; and Tim Wall, general partner for The Fund at Hula.
As parents and as business leaders, we rely on child care to make everything work. That’s why this election we’re focused on electing candidates who are committed to solving Vermont’s child care crisis.
Right now, working parents are being forced to choose between their work and caring for their children because Vermont doesn’t have enough high-quality child care that’s affordable. Likewise, employers are being restricted because they can’t recruit or retain the talent they need due to a lack of high-quality child care for families.
Vermont is great place to live, work and raise a family but, like so many other places, our state is experiencing a massive child care crisis that threatens the viability of companies like ours.
Over the past couple years, Vermont has seen an influx of thousands of new people and families moving to the state. In Chittenden County alone, from 2020 to 2021, 605 new businesses launched or opened new locations, a massive spike over the previous year.
However, it’s increasingly challenging to find workers here in Vermont or those willing and able to relocate, and the top reason we hear is lack of high-quality, affordable child care. It’s estimated that there are over 5,000 parents living in Vermont right now who want to work but can’t because they don’t have the child care they need. That is an astonishing number — equivalent to the population of Jericho.
Even in an area of the state with greater population and economies of scale, Chittenden County is 1,000 child care spaces short to meet the current demand. In total, statewide, Vermont’s child care system is short 8,700 spaces. These are scary numbers to think about — that’s thousands of children, from birth to age 5, in Vermont who don’t have access to essential early learning opportunities that set them up for lifelong success and thousands of parents who could be working but can’t because of the child care crisis.
According to the nonprofit advocacy organization Let’s Grow Kids, when families are lucky enough to find child care, they’re paying up to 30 percent of their household income.
When employees struggle to find and afford child care, the result is loss of productivity, high stress, lack of retention, and loss of otherwise great employees. When we think about what we can do together to strengthen our workforce and in turn grow our economy, the single most impactful step we can take is increasing public investment in our state’s child care system to lower costs for families, increase wages for early childhood educators, and add desperately needed capacity.
The outcomes of increased public investment in child care will be felt immediately in the productivity of and reduced stress for our existing workforce. It will also allow almost immediately the estimated 5,000 Vermonters waiting on the “workforce bench” to enter or re-enter the applicant pool.
As business leaders and as passionate Vermonters who care about the future of our state, we’re committed to solving the child care crisis. From now until Election Day, we’re dedicated to working as hard as we can to elect local and statewide candidates who will prioritize child care investment once in office.
We encourage all other business leaders in Chittenden County — and throughout the state — to join us.