March 25, 2022 11:04am
Op-Ed: Solving Louisville’s childcare crisis requires action from public and private sector
This article originally appeared in the Lane Report on March 24, 2022
For most reading this, finding and maintaining a job is straightforward. We get on our computer to submit our resume or application. We get in our car to drive to an interview. We pass the needed background and drug screenings. Then we drop our kids off at daycare and head on our way to making a living.
Sadly, this is not the reality for many individuals in our region who experience barriers that prevent them from completing one, several, or all these steps.
While unemployment rates have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, Louisville’s workforce participation rate continues to hover at one of the lowest in the nation. Transportation, high costs of expungements, and internet access have been persistent barriers in our community. However, accessibility and affordability of childcare have become the most acute barrier that is keeping many parents on the sideline of our economy and making it even harder for businesses to actualize their full recovery post-pandemic.
To be clear, Louisville’s childcare sector has needed a tune-up for many years. Since 2012, childcare capacity in our state has decreased by 46 percent. But this decline rapidly accelerated during the pandemic when Louisville experienced a nine percent reduction in childcare facilities. And those facilities that were able to remain open are now experiencing the same staffing shortages as so many Louisville businesses. This leads to higher costs and long waitlists for childcare centers across Greater Louisville. Most concerning of all, many families are more frequently left to answer a disheartening question– does it make financial and logistical sense to work?
It is the growing number of “no” responses to this question that is leading to a critical shortage of workers in many of our industries and threatening our full economic recovery. When the costs of childcare and barrier removal are more than a parent’s income, there is not an incentive for people to work. Current statistics paint the picture clearly – 45 percent of Kentucky parents have had to quit, not take, or change their jobs, due to lack of childcare.
If we are going to solve our region’s workforce crisis, we cannot keep putting off solving our broken childcare system. We must prioritize policies and actions that make childcare more accessible, affordable, and reliable so people feel empowered to work.
Recently there was a step in the right direction at the local level. Last week, Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed an ordinance to reform childcare zoning restrictions. Previously, childcare centers could not open in residential areas, which make up 60 percent of land in Jefferson County. Most of the land was in-home childcare only, which could have no more than six children per site.
The ordinance has expanded where childcare centers can be located, so providers can be close to where families work and live. It also allows in-home care of up to twelve children, helping Louisville families gain access to providers close to them. In the months and years ahead, this will create more options, and ultimately help parents return to the workforce knowing they have quality, licensed care for their children.
This was a great first step, but more changes are needed, to fully solve the childcare crisis.
At the state level, House Bill 499, also called the Kentucky Child Care Assistance Partnership, would make childcare more affordable for Kentucky families by encouraging employers to offer childcare assistance as a benefit. The Kentucky Child Care Assistance Partnership would match state funds to contributions made by employers and provide financial support based on need. This public/private partnership would make tremendous strides in reducing the financial burden of childcare on working families and provide greater incentives to work.
In addition, the General Assembly must prioritize funding and supports for childcare facilities and staffing as it finalizes the state’s biennial budget. It has never been more critical than the General Assembly pass these important policies to give more Louisvillians the opportunity to access steady employment.
GLI also recognizes the business community has a role to play in solving this problem in addition to advocating for these policies. That is why we continue to encourage employers to provide competitive and creative benefits that meet potential employees where they are and help remove barriers to continued employment.
Shelby Williams Somervell is the VP of Government Affairs and Communications at Greater Louisville Inc.