This commentary is by Sam Hooper, owner and president of Vermont Glove in Randolph.
As a young person choosing to live in Vermont, I believe it’s important that we invest in our state’s future. When we look at the barriers to success for a small businesses like Vermont Glove, access to affordable, high-quality child care for our employees is atop the list.
This is no surprise, considering approximately 60 percent of Vermont’s youngest children don’t have access to the care they need, according to the child care advocacy organization Let’s Grow Kids. Vermont families are spending up to 30% of their household income on child care, the majority of child care programs are experiencing staffing shortages, and early childhood educators — who are essential to our workforce and economy — are not being compensated fairly for their work.
Our child care system is broken.
Employees should not have to make a decision between showing up to work and taking care of their young children because they can’t find or afford care. Yet, employees around the state make this emotional decision daily because of the child care crisis, and the ramifications of these decisions are crushing small businesses.
Initially, to address this crisis as an employer, I considered hosting onsite child care; however, I quickly realized this was a mere stopgap to a much larger, systemic challenge. Systemic challenges require systemic solutions, which is why the only solution to Vermont’s child care crisis is increasing public investment in our birth-to-5 child care system. Not just temporarily, but for the long term, with a sustainable funding source.
As a small business owner, I wear many different hats (or gloves, in this case). We try to be as flexible as possible for our employees, but our industry requires skilled onsite workers to get our product out the door. When one employee can’t make it in because their child care program is closed for the day (or week, in some cases), we know it’s going to be a difficult day; when two or three employees call in, that’s another story.
As a matter of fact, we’ve crunched the numbers and when an employee on our production line has to stay home — in many instances, due to a lack of child care — it creates a bottleneck with an impact of about 30 percent reduction in glove manufacturing every day an employee is out.
Not only are our current employees unable to work, but when Vermont communities can’t meet the demand for child care, we have no hope of attracting talent to the state. The child care crisis has become a barrier to business and workforce growth. As an employer, there have been instances we’ve had to think twice about whether we would be able to fill a new contract because we might not have the support due to a lack of child care for employees. The decision to take on a new contract should never come down to this.
According to a recent economic impact analysis done by Let’s Grow Kids, investing in our state’s child care system will create jobs, grow the workforce, and support a resilient Vermont economy for generations to come. This analysis showed that when we make child care more affordable and accessible, upwards of 5,000 parents — mainly mothers — are able to return to the workforce, Vermont families save millions of dollars annually, and our economy sees an immediate return each year.
Unlike other big challenges facing Vermonters today, for the child care crisis the solution is clear, and the return on investment is clear. All that remains is taking action.
Vermont Glove has taken action: Along with more than 140 employers from across sectors and regions, we’ve endorsed Vermont’s Child Care Campaign; we encourage other businesses, particularly small businesses, to get involved, stand with us and take action.
During the current election season, we have an opportunity to shape how these important public investment decisions are being made. We encourage Vermonters to talk openly and directly with their candidates for office to be sure — like us — they are committed to making transformational progress on child care if elected to serve. Together, we can make our child care system work for all Vermonters.