New Hampshire has consistently been a great state to open a business and to raise a family, but as any parent of young children knows, the difficulty of accessing affordable and reliable childcare is threatening the precarious balance of industry and family needs. The childcare crisis is putting pressure on both employers and employees who are parents, particularly mothers of young children, in a bind.
The childcare crisis looks like this: Child care centers are struggling to hire and retain employees. This limits their legal capacity to make spots available for more children. If childcare centers raise employee pay, that cost will be passed onto families. Thus, parents either can’t find childcare spaces available or the rates are unaffordable. Businesses then struggle to hire employees because many potential employees don’t have childcare.
The pandemic and subsequent recovery has brought into sharp focus just how much a strong economy relies on a robust childcare industry, or “the workforce behind the workforce.” We need sustainable support for the childcare industry to build a foundation for our businesses, kids and young parents, particularly mothers, to rebuild from the pandemic.
Like all New Hampshire businesses struggling to bounce back and rebuild in 2022, childcare providers also struggle with the right balance to recruit and retain employees without greatly impacting prices for consumers and their bottom line. When the product is childcare, and the consumers are parents with kids, this creates ripple effects across all industries.
Child care for one infant in New Hampshire costs $13,255 on average. For a married couple making the median state income, that’s 12 percent of their income. For a median single income earner, that’s 40 percent of her income.
Child care for two children in New Hampshire costs $24,28 on average. For a married couple making the median income, that’s 21 percent of their income. For a median single income earner, that’s 73 percent of her income. Many parents find that childcare costs more than what they earn and may make the economic decision to not return to work to take care of their children at home. This has created an unsustainable cycle for childcare centers, parents and employers.
While nearly everyone is impacted by the current childcare crisis, essential workers and women are feeling its impact more acutely. Studies have shown that, in response to pandemic-related childcare demands, mothers with young children have arranged reductions in their work hours that are four to five times greater than the reductions arranged by fathers.
And without access to reliable childcare, women leave the workforce. Women made up 53 percent of New Hampshire unemployment claims during the pandemic. Between April 2020 and December 2021, 15 percent of Granite State workers who are out of the labor force cite childcare as the primary reason for not working.
This is exacerbated by regional disparities in what are called “childcare deserts.” In these locations, in mostly rural areas, it can be nearly impossible to find childcare. For women trying to return to work in rural areas, these challenges can be insurmountable.
Women make the economy work. We need a solution that reflects the greater burden on working women with families.
Some businesses have had the ability to be flexible or creative, allowing employees to work from home, to shift their hours to accommodate children’s schedules and sick time to provide for children’s needs when they are exposed or sick themselves. But not all industries can be accommodating for employees — emergency responders, food service workers, hospitality and retail workers don’t have the option of doing their jobs remotely, for example.
In fact, all industries are affected by the childcare crisis, and addressing it will require a multi-faceted approach.
In an initial effort to tackle the crisis, the NH Legislature is considering SB 446, “The Workforce Behind the Workforce Act,” which, as amended by the Senate, directs the Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Child Care Advisory Council, to submit a plan to the governor and Legislature outlining proposals to provide economic relief and recovery to foster childcare opportunities in the state.
The Early Learning Alliance is leading a broad coalition of community, advocacy and business support for this bill. The NH Women’s Foundation and the Business & Industry Association support this legislation. We urge the Legislature to pass this bill and we urge Governor Sununu to sign it.
We can’t stop there. We need parents of young kids to speak up about their struggle. We need businesses to engage with their legislators to explain the childcare-related challenges they meet in hiring. We need all workers and community members to recognize how this impacts their daily lives. We need our community and state leaders to take bold action to address the childcare crisis for affordable, accessible, and high-quality care that will support a healthy, equitable, and prosperous future for New Hampshire.
Tanna Clews is CEO of the NH Women’s Foundation. Michael Skelton is president and CEO of the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire.