(Opinion) Child care central to success of NH businesses
Lack of affordable, available child care hindering workforce growth
Ask almost any business owner and they will tell you: One of the most pressing problems impeding their ability to recruit and retain a workforce is the lack of available and affordable child care. Without access to quality, affordable child care for their workers, businesses are unable to fill critical vacancies, which limits opportunities for growth and stifles their potential for economic success.
Although child care is an essential resource for most Granite State families, it’s often expensive and nearly impossible to secure. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is considered affordable when it costs families no more than 7 percent of their household income. In New Hampshire, the cost of care for an infant averages $14,425 per year in a center-based setting, which would consume over 37 percent of a single parent’s income and 11 percent of a two-parent household that nets $120,000 annually. These rates are unaffordable for most New Hampshire families.
Even if a family can afford child care, the demand on providers currently exceeds their capacity to serve families. Since 2019, 42 child care centers have closed across New Hampshire, eliminating 1,459 slots for children and adding to the growing demand for availability. Low wages and the Covid-19 pandemic placed additional pressures on this fragile system, leaving families with few options, and often forcing them to piece together care for their children. The consistency and quality of that patchworked care directly impacts whether a caregiver remains in the workforce.
If a family cannot find child care, women are often the ones to leave the workforce. Before the pandemic, 85.5 percent of women aged 25-34 participated in the workforce. Today, that number hovers around 75.8 percent. To add insult to injury, nearly half of women in this age bracket hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. In May 2021, the director of the New Hampshire Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau reported that “Increasing the labor force participation rate of women ages 25-54 by just 1.3 percent (10,000) would add over $1 billion to New Hampshire’s gross domestic product by 2031.” New Hampshire’s businesses suffer from a reduced pool of qualified workers and the ripple effects of decreased consumer spending and higher employee turnover rates.
It’s critical that Granite State policymakers recognize a strong system of child care is not only good for families but is essential to the bottom line of nearly every business in this state.
Fortunately, there are clear ways New Hampshire can strengthen the child care system for families and support expansion of the child care workforce. First, we must maximize existing programs aimed at supporting working families. This will enable businesses to recruit and retain more working parents. Second, New Hampshire must directly invest in the child care workforce. Addressing the wage gap for child care workers and providing support for workforce recruitment and retention are critical. Wherever possible, New Hampshire should leverage existing federal dollars to ensure the long-term stability of the workforce.
Business leaders are uniquely positioned to use their voice to combat outdated views on child care and set the foundation for state policy under consideration this legislative session. Historically, the financial and logistical burden of securing child care has been viewed as a family issue, not a business issue. That outdated sentiment remains a barrier to critical change. New Hampshire’s business community has the power to change this perception.
A strong child care system is a cornerstone to the success of New Hampshire businesses and preservation of a vibrant state economy. As the Legislature embarks on the 2023 session, it’s imperative that our policymakers recognize providing support for child care initiatives will help alleviate the current workforce shortage, while also increasing recruitment and retention of workers in years to come. Investing in child care is essential for the future of the Granite State economy and will help ensure our long-term prosperity.
Michele Merritt is president and CEO of New Futures. Rebecca Woitkowski serves as the Kids Count policy director for New Futures.