JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Roughly 1 in every 3 childcare facilities in Missouri are no longer open following the pandemic, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is affecting the state’s economy by billions of dollars.
In less than two years, more than 1,000 childcare facilities closed in Missouri. If you’re a parent, you know, it’s becoming harder to find care and if you do, it’s expensive. According to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and United Women’s Empowerment (United WE), a big reason why people are leaving the childcare workforce is a livable wage and benefits.
“That’s what elevated this to be the most significant workforce development issue for the State of Missouri,” United WE CEO and President Wendy Doyle said. “You can go to your local retail store, your local restaurant and potentially make more money on an hourly basis then you do providing childcare.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce said the state is missing out on more than $1.3 billion annually because of childcare issues.
“Seven in 10 daycare centers are not operating at capacity because they don’t have enough workers,” Missouri Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Mehan said. “We’ve got companies from all parts of the state, every size and every corner, and the common theme is we’ve got the jobs, we can’t find the workers.”
Many parents are choosing to leave their job because they either can’t find someone to watch over their child or they are paying too much.
“One Cape Girardeau family sited specifically they would have to drive 40 miles one way to be able to take their children for childcare,” Doyle said. “Drive back 30 miles to go to work, drive back, and so a total roundtrip of about 160 miles.”
This year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said more than 140 school districts have switched to four-day weeks for teacher recruitment and retention. Independence School District, just outside of Kansas City, with nearly 14,000 students, decided on Tuesday to move to a shortened school week starting next year.
“This is putting additional stress on Missouri families knowing that they have to figure out what’s going to happen with their children on the day that school is not open,” Doyle said. “It very likely could put families in a position to chose between work and family.”
Over the past few months, United WE, a research evidence-based organization, held nearly a dozen town halls to hear from families, childcare providers and other stakeholders.
“And through that conversation, we identified that a significant issue to really open up and get childcare workers is the lack of healthcare benefits,” Doyle said.
That’s where the Missouri Chamber of Commerce comes in, offering a healthcare benefit plan to help recruit and retain providers.
“The Chamber Benefit Plan gathers thousands of Missouri’s small employers into one purchasing group, therefore driving down and holding down the cost of providing that benefit,” Mehan said. “Childcare facilities are at a big disadvantage in general because they struggle to keep workers because many are unable to provide basic worker benefits like health insurance.”
Mehan said the health insurance plan is administered through Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield. Small businesses like childcare facilities that have between 2 to 50 employees are eligible for the Chamber Benefit Plan as long as they belong to a local chamber.
“This program has been in existence for six years and is very sustainable,” Mehan said. “If you’re in a community with a local chamber, they are going to know who their local childcare providers are and vice versa, so the program has been a game changer.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce said there are already 3,600 small businesses that have enrolled in the healthcare plan.
Doyle said while this is a small piece of the puzzle, it’s a step in the right direction.
“This is going to be a significant conversation piece of the 2023 session with policymakers,” Doyle said.
She said she has heard of companies in Missouri that are offering onsite childcare or are offering stipends to employees to help offset the cost of care.
Lieut. Gov. Mike Kehoe became aware of the concern within the childcare industry after a study was done by United WE.
“The governor and the legislature has been putting resources in the form of dollars towards working with DESE and childcare companies,” Kehoe said. “This is an issue for Missourians no matter where you live. Legislators and Gov. Mike Parson are all very much in tune and very much into solving this issue.”
According to United WE, infant childcare in Missouri is estimated to cost $9,500, which is more than average tuition at a public university (roughly $8,600).
DESE said as of September 2021, there were 1,376 childcare facilities that closed since the start of the pandemic. Reducing the number of facilities by 32%. There’s also been a 36% reduction in the number of programs accepting subsidy and a 34% drop in the number of children receiving state subsidies.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce said it plans to offer webinars and resources to childcare facilities after the first of the year.
According to a report from the U.S. Chamber foundation in 2021, 61% of Missouri parents reported missing work due to childcare issues
For more information about the Chamber Benefit Plan, visit the Chamber’s website.