County Update: Child care is the fuel in our economic engine
Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Any working parent or employer of a working parent can tell you that child care is critical to our economic success — as a county, as a state and as a country. This may not have been true when it was more common for one parent, usually mom, to stay home, but in the modern world, both parents tend to work, whether out of necessity or choice. The last Kids Count survey indicated that 77% of children younger than 6 in Routt County had all of their parents in the workforce — the Colorado average is about 63%.
You don’t have to look much further than the headlines of the last few weeks to see the impact that the closure of child care and schools is having on our economy:
- “The Big Factor Holding Back the U.S. Economic Recovery: Child care” (Washington Post, July 3)
- “Child Care is Essential to Reopening the Economy” (CNN, July 2)
- “Big New Obstacle for Economic Recovery: Child Care Crisis” (NY Times, July 10)
- “The Economy Can’t Recover as Long as Day Cares and Schools Remain Closed” (Business Insider, July 9)
A study from the Early Learning Policy Group estimates the economic impact of child care in the U.S. at $99.3 billion. This includes the direct economic benefit of child care businesses and the indirect benefit of child care allowing so many people to work in this country.
This spring, we recognized the harsh reality that our K-12 school system fills a critical need in this arena as well. While teachers are certainly not providing a daycare service, they are providing a safe place that parents count on, and as soon as this support was pulled out from under them, economic foundations started to crack.
Even before businesses started to close, workers found themselves unable to work because they didn’t have a safe place for their children. Those of us fortunate to be able to work from home found that working while tending to either a young child who couldn’t entertain themselves or an older child who needed support to manage the demands of online schooling was a monumental task even for the most ardent multitasker, which most working parents are, by the way.
I have been beating the drum for many years about the critical role that child care plays in our economy and the resulting devastation that ensues when we have a shortage, as we have in infant and toddler care for years, and we now have for all age groups. Even when this COVID-induced crisis is over, child care will still be a challenge.
Private child care centers, whether they are for-profit or nonprofit, are small businesses that operate on very thin margins. Like many other businesses, they are extremely challenged by reduced capacity, closures, a lack of consumer confidence and the cost of increased health and safety measures. Many child care centers are not expected to survive this pandemic.
So, what can we do? This is not an easy question, but if there are any good answers, we have to value child care’s contribution to our economy. Child care provides a critical foundation of our success, just as important as schools, roads, human services, small businesses and access to clean air and water.
While it is not enough, let’s start by thanking those who provide child care and education and remember that they are the fuel in our economic engine.
Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton also serves as the chair of the Routt County Early Childhood Council, also known as First Impressions.
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