Report: Affordable, home-based childcare is key to economic recovery | Friday Morning Coffee

Pennsylvania lost about a third of its home-based child care providers in recent years. The pandemic only exacerbated that trend

December 10, 2021 7:21 am

(Getty Images)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

It’s already well-established that access to affordable, quality childcare is key to both the nation’s ongoing economic recovery and to women returning to the workforce.

newly released report reinforces that notion, stressing the importance of the role that home-based providers play in that recovery, and the need for state policymakers to buttress the industry to further aid in the recovery.

“Home-based child care is a ‘jack of all trades’ profession,” Sheryl Eichenlaub, a family child care provider from Bethel Park, in suburban Pittsburgh, said during a recent virtual panel discussion sponsored by the advocacy group Ready Nation/Council for a Strong America.

“Your primary job is caring for children,” she continued, according to a statement provided to the Capital-Star. “You are also required to manage the business and accounts as well as deal with state regulations which can be quite confusing for a one-person operation.”

According to the report, the number of family-based providers has dropped by around a third (32%) statewide, and that trend has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. About half of the more than 1,000 childcare providers who have closed since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 were home-based providers.

And, given an overall shortage of child care, “particularly for infants, this decrease in home-based child care availability is especially problematic,” the advocacy group said in its statement.

Tamia Davis, a provider from Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, stressed the difficult nature of the work these home-based providers undertake.

“Our day doesn’t end when the children go home,” Davis said. “Evenings are when we do the back office work, cleaning, laundry, stocking, and maintenance. Long hours, low pay, and really no benefits are why the numbers of home-based providers are waning.”

(Source: ReadyNation/Council for a Strong America)

And that decline spells trouble for parents, according to Jayme Jordan, of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Trying Together, which provides support to these home-based providers.

“Many parents are looking for a small, home-like family child care setting with more one-on-one attention,” she said in a statement. “Family child care provides working parents with increased flexibility for non-traditional work hours, especially for parents needing infant-toddler care.”

That’s particularly true for women, whose participation in the labor force dropped to its lowest point since 1988 during the first quarter of 2021, according to a report jointly released by the United Way of Pennsylvania, and the United Way of Bucks County, this column reported in October.

That report painted a vivid and disturbing picture of the pandemic’s impact on working women in Pennsylvania, finding, among other things, that:

  • “Unemployment insurance claims were higher for women than for men from January 2020 to January 2021, peaking at 22.3 percent (vs. 19.3 percent for men).
  • “More than four times as many Pennsylvania women were unemployed in December 2020 than in December 2019,” and that
  • “Female workforce participation is not expected to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels until late 2024.”

“Among women, certain subgroups were particularly impacted, including women of color, those with lower levels of education, and those in low-wage jobs,” the report found. Women also comprised two-thirds of the essential workforce in Pennsylvania, and were “key to providing vital infrastructure services and helping to keep the economy running during the pandemic.”

(Image via Pa. Partnerships for Children)

The new report makes a number of recommendations to policymakers, exhorting them to help address staffing shortages across the industry.

Among other things, the report calls for:

  • “Enhancing mentorship opportunities for home-based providers;
  • “Revising the Keystone STARS Program to recognize key differences among home-based providers and ensure that high-quality home-based providers can more readily become rated as high-quality;
  • “Increasing compensation to cover the actual cost of high-quality care through subsidy rates and reform the reimbursement rates for home-based high-quality care;
  • “Stabilizing the budgets of home-based child care providers through participation in programs like Infant Toddler Contracted Slots; and,
  • “Engaging in public education and promotion efforts statewide on the importance of high-quality child care across all settings.”

“Almost all [92 percent] of Pennsylvania child care programs are facing staffing shortages,” Lindsey Ramsey, the assistant director of Policy and Practice for Trying Together, said in a statement. “As a result, more than half of child care programs have closed one or more classrooms. This is causing a statewide child care waitlist of about 26,000 kids.”

That, in turn, has a real trickle-down effect on the economy — and it’s not the one that some pols love to reference.

Data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry (hardly Molotov cocktail-wielding anarchists) indicated that, prior to the pandemic, gaps in the state’s child care system cost taxpayers and businesses some $3.47 billion a year, according to an analysis provided to the Capital-Star.

“Child care closures are being felt particularly by the female workforce,”  Bill Isler, the former president & CEO of the Fred Rogers Company and a member of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, said. “Some economists are predicting that the lack of child care is a principal reason why the female workforce is not expected to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels until late 2024.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

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Philadelphia could be on its way to requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining — as is the case with New York City. The Inquirer has the story.

Penn State has named its first woman — and person of color — as its new university president, the Tribune-Review reports.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.