Forbes: Why The Child Care Crisis Is Actually An Economic Crisis

The struggle for child care is intensified in summer months, when parents attempt to cobble together a mixture of pricey camps with long waitlists and other supplemental activities for children.

When school is not in session, work schedules remain unchanged. And with parents spending upwards of 40% of their earnings on child care year round, it’s no surprise that many are simply leaving the workforce completely, not only fueling the child care crisis, but creating an economic one.

The Department of Labor estimates that women, who often bear the brunt of the care burden are penalized by $295,000 in missed lifetime earnings due to the fact that they are often forced to leave the workforce or take pay reductions to accomodate caregiving responsibilities.

That’s why TheSkimm’s Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin have teamed up with Reshma Saujani’s Moms First on a campaign that calls on the private sector to scale up their efforts to support working parents. More specifically, it asks them to #ShowUsYourChildcare - a call to action for companies to publicly disclose the care benefits they offer, not only raising awareness but also nudging other businesses to adapt their policies to offer more support for caregiving employees. The initiative is the next evolution of last year’s #ShowUsYourLeave campaign, which encouraged companies to offer better paid leave policies to birthing parents.

“Millennial women thought we were stepping into these (working caregiver) roles thanks to so many people who had paved the way before us. We thought we’d be able to take advantage of all the progress that’s been made,” says Weisberg. “Instead, the pandemic hit and we were set back in so many ways. At that moment, there was this collective sense of, oh my gosh, how are people doing this?”

TheSkimm’s 2023 State of Women Report, a study of 4,500 women conducted by The Harris Poll, found that 73% of millennial women feel overwhelmed by the demands of being a parent, while 64% are tired of trying to be a super-mom, super wife and/or super employee. The study found that many women have simply given up on the illusion of external support, which was one of the biggest motivators for Weisberg and Zakin to take action.

“We are calling for transparency around what your child care situation looks like,” says Weisberg. “And we want transparency around what is being offered by companies. We want to ignite a conversation, and that means spotlighting companies who are doing this well, telling the stories of what it looks like to have child care and the struggle when you don't.”

Through her organization, Saujani is advocating for care support within the private sector and through federal and local policy reform. Through ongoing conversations with several governors as well as senior White House officials, the group is making the economic case for caregiver support.

Last month, Saujani hosted an event with Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who pointed out that investments in childcare, from the public and private sector, “are essential to getting Americans, especially women, back to work and supporting continued economic growth for the U.S.”

“The goal of this campaign is to show a need for expansive and inclusive policies around childcare,” Saujani says. “We must continue to push for public investment.”

But there is still resistance to private sector engagement. Companies are still asking, where’s the ROI in subsidizing child care for employees? Aren’t these benefits costly to organizations?

“When you provide these benefits, people stay longer,” Saujani argues. “They don't miss work. You don’t have the expense of staff turnover. We have to move the conversation from childcare being a personal problem to it being a business problem. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.”

Through the Moms First National Business Coalition for Childcare, Saujani has enlisted 30 companies committed to expanding childcare benefits, such as DoorDash, Johnson & Johnson, Etsy, Pinterest and more.

So far, more than 60 companies have signed on to participate in the #ShowUsYourChildcare initiative, including many of the organizations from that coalition.

The message from leaders like Saujani, Weisberg and Zakin is clear: investing in child care is good for business and good for the economy. In fact, Boston Consulting Group estimates that the U.S. could lose $290 billion in GDP if no action is taken to reform child care now.

“Millennial women are the single most important demographic to our economy, and if we are not participating in our economy, what does that mean?” Zakin says. “If our birth rate declines because we can't afford to have children, if we do not keep ourselves in the workforce, we're leaving $290 billion dollars on the table for our country's GDP. This is the brink of an economic crisis and that's what everyone needs to be paying attention to.”

“Women make 95% of household decisions, becoming the most critical and largest voting block,” Zakin continues. “It is bad economic policy to ignore them.”

“Our culture makes us not want to come across as weak, but to come across as contributing to the organization and hitting all our KPIs,” says Christine Michel Carter, an advisor for the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health. “But without supporting working parents, especially mothers in the workforce, that just puts stress on the very people who stimulate the economy.”

To the experts, the solution seems obvious. When systems support working caregivers, those caregivers become motivated employees who can perform at their best. In turn, those caregivers gain more spending power, which they put into the economy.

“We want to produce. We want to hit those KPIs,” Carter says. “At the same time, we need our representatives in Congress to do a better job of creating policies that are friendly to working parents. On top of that, we need more working parents to show up at work and advocate for themselves. It's not just on the employer, and it's not just on the government. It's also on these people to not accept the status quo, or nothing is going to change.”

“We want companies to offer these benefits not just to C-level or salaried employees, but to hourly workers,” Saujani says. “This is what Chobani and other companies in the coalition are doing. I've talked to a handful of governors about this, and they all acknowledge that this is a workforce issue. Helping families out with child care is good for business and it's good for the economy.”

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