Wanted: Physical therapy assistants, $52,000 average salary. Respiratory therapists, $56,000. Registered nurses, $69,000.
Health care is bursting with opportunities. From hospital systems to home health providers to nursing communities, Pennsylvania health care businesses demand dedicated, highly qualified staff, equipped to show up every day and deliver high-quality care and ever-improving outcomes.
What’s standing in our way? In addition to the supply of skilled workers in specialty clinical roles, a lack of accessible, affordable, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, and it’s not a problem for health care alone. The child care gap is costing Pennsylvania $2.5 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue, according to “Growing Our Economy Means Investing in Child Care Today,” a groundbreaking study commissioned by the Early Learning Investment Commission (ELIC) and ReadyNation.
The issue encompasses 322,500 Pennsylvania working parents who have children under age 3 and rely on child care to hold down their jobs. We must adopt targeted policies, investments, and innovation to halt this $2.5 billion loss.
Health care employers know that excellence in patient care starts, first, with care for our valued team members. Our carefully crafted policies help employees achieve work-life balance so they can approach their jobs refreshed and focused.
But our efforts falter when child care is inaccessible and unaffordable, as the ELIC/ReadyNation report shows:
n 57 percent of Pennsylvanians live in child care deserts, where there are three children for each child care slot. Families with infants and toddlers, working evening and night shifts, or living in rural areas are especially vexed to find care — and yet, these are the very people health care employers rely on to deliver care around the clock, every day of the year.
n Infant care costs $11,560 a year — close to the annual $14,437 cost of public college tuition. For single parents, that $11,560 represents almost half of their annual income.
n Even when child care is accessible, only 39 percent meets high-quality standards. High provider turnover is a major culprit, disrupting the stability and consistency that young children need in their crucial developmental years.
By surveying working parents of infants and toddlers and scrutinizing labor data, ELIC and ReadyNation uncovered the costs that child care struggles put on parents, employers and taxpayers:
n Parents lose $1.5 billion. They spend less time at work. Productivity declines due to fewer hours and distractions on the job. Many have been reprimanded, demoted, subjected to pay and hour cuts, or even fired. One-third are forced to turn down further education or skills training, limiting their prospects for career advancement and higher earnings — a particular concern in health care, where many of our best jobs offer career ladders built on attainment of specialized certifications and degrees.
n Employers and businesses lose $600 million. Revenue falls. Hiring costs rise. Workforce turnover dampens employee morale, diminishes the quality of products and services, and leads to loss of clients. Costs accumulate in a never-ending cycle of recruitment, hiring, and training.
n Taxpayers pay $400 million, or an average of $860 each. That’s because declining household income and business earnings generate less tax revenue for states and municipalities.
For many years, Pennsylvania lawmakers have invested in child care, acknowledging the power of quality care to promote school readiness. Now that this new report uncovers the enormous amount of child care problems on the economy, it’s time to leverage our longtime investments by closing the affordability and accessibility gap.
Steps to take include closing a waiting list for subsidized child care and compensating quality programs at the actual cost of care. To further improve quality, we can incentivize more providers of infant/toddler care to achieve the standards of the Keystone STARS rating system, and we can increase our investment in the child care workforce.
Businesses also have a role to play. Our employees have insights to share on how child care affects scheduling, transportation, and productivity.
We can offer employees access to dependent care flexible spending (money set aside from the paycheck that is pre-tax to pay for child care expenses), flexible work schedules, and explore opportunities to provide child care subsidies. Donations to Keystone STARS-rated child care helps build up the community’s stockpile of high-quality child care that enables parents to succeed at work and achieve their career goals.
A thriving economy needs child care that’s affordable, accessible, and high-quality. Together, we can close the $2.5 billion child care gap and assure prosperity for parents, employers and communities.
Kendra Aucker is president and CEO of Evangelical Community Hospital and a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission.