ReadyNation: Solving the Child Care Crisis: A Shared, Public-Private Responsibility

New report: As employers and local governments tackle child care challenges, business leaders call for greater state and federal investments

Effingham County, in south central Illinois, provides a timely snapshot of what’s at stake when communities lack adequate child care resources — and what’s possible when local governments and businesses pitch-in to tackle the challenges. This is the focus of a new ReadyNation report, Solving the Child Care Crisis: A Shared Responsibility, which delves into questions of public- and private-sector roles and responsibilities in resolving the child care problems that serve as a drag on our economy.

Effingham County has many of the same child care struggles that can be observed throughout the state, where 58 percent of Illinoisans live in a child care “desert”—areas where there are more than three children under age 5 for each licensed child care slot. In rural communities such as Effingham, the figure is 69 percent.

As families face the challenges of insufficient child care availability and lack of affordability, businesses, in turn, face the challenges of hiring and retaining employees. These issues go hand in hand: Businesses can’t succeed without productive employees, and parents can’t maintain their jobs or succeed at work without a robust system of supports for their kids. High-quality child care and early education programs provide parents with the peace of mind they need to be reliable and fully engaged workers. Nowhere are these issues more significant than Illinois, where 70 percent of young children live in households where all available parents are participating in the workforce—about 602,000 children in all.

The ReadyNation report notes that Effingham County has made efforts to address its child care challenges head on. Its assessment of needs, and the corresponding impact on local employers, spurred the county board and business leaders to action. The efforts of the local county board, service providers, and a prominent manufacturing firm demonstrate the power of on-the-ground entities in working together toward solutions. They also help to show that the private sector and local government cannot solve the child care crisis alone; economies of scale come into play, and state and federal governments must bring their considerable resources to bear in creating a truly robust and sustainable child care system.

Illinois’ recent use of federal COVID-relief dollars in helping support the child care sector is a great example of such state and federal partnership. But these resources expire soon—and much more is necessary to fulfill the vision of a bipartisan commission that has recommended significant improvements in Illinois’ early childhood system, improvements that can bolster the well-being of our economy as well as individual working parents and families.