The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 27, 2021 1:00 am

Child care fuels economic growth

Working moms need more flexibility than now available

Rachel Tobin-Smith

It is 8 a.m. when the day-care provider calls. She is sick and can't care for children today.

Mom quickly calls other women to see if they can fill in, and paces in the kitchen while awaiting a call back. Her toddler daughter reaches up and hugs Mom around her legs with hands sticky from her peanut butter and jelly toast.

Mom is frustrated, panicked and angry. She has to get to work.

Five years later, Mom is scrambling again. The school has announced a delay because of fog. Now she has two little ones. She hustles them out the door and takes them to work because what is the alternative? Her neighbor cannot watch this time for the two-hour delay.

Another five years later, Mom pieces together various day camps and college-age caregivers to watch her middle schoolers during summer break.

These are just a few of the child care experiences I had during my working-mom days.

Last year when the pandemic hit and schools and child care centers closed, I imagined we would finally get it: Parents need reliable, high-quality child care to be able to work.

But with the worst days of the pandemic behind us and worker shortages taking over the headlines, child care has faded in importance as the focus shifts to unemployment benefits. The theory being: Cut unemployment benefits and women/parents will go back to work.

In recent years, as I've met women across the political spectrum, there is one commonality we all share: finding, keeping and having someone to care for our children while we work. It doesn't matter if mom is a CEO, physician, restaurant server, cashier or assembly line worker. Child care can make or break her ability to work.

We all knew working parents relied on schools for child care during the day, but we didn't talk about it much. We instead mentioned good education and teacher pay.

The pandemic highlighted in big, bold print that if schools were closed, many parents would need to be home to supervise their school-age children.

Now we have a worker shortage. I don't have statistics, but I do have my own experience and that of other working women. If child care availability and affordability were expanded in our state, it would go a long way toward helping more people enter the workforce.

In October 2020, the Economic Policy Institute published the following data:

• The average annual cost of infant care in Indiana is $12,612 – that's $1,051 per month.

• Child care for a 4-year-old costs $9,557, or $796 a month.

• Indiana ranks 18th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for most expensive infant care.

The Economic Policy Institute goes on to say that, if you have more than one child, it is far worse. The EPI states that, in Indiana, child care is expensive! Here are some of the numbers in their report.

Care for two children – an infant and a 4-year-old – costs $22,170. That's 56.6% more than average rent in Indiana. A typical Indiana family would have to spend 38.7% of its income on child care for an infant and a 4-year-old.

The cost is one of the largest burdens, but availability is also an issue. Furthermore, we trust our most precious possession, our children, to wonderful caring people whom we do not pay well.

Today, I drove by three businesses, all with help-wanted signs posted. We need workers. Working parents need child care. The community must demand vision and leadership from the corporate community and our governmental community to solve this dilemma now.

Back when I was a young working mother, Taxpayers Research Association, the Fort Wayne Women's Bureau and the then Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce put out a report called “Childcare is Good Business.” Work was done to increase affordable, accessible options for working parents.

Child care is still good business! Child care is essential to our economic growth.

We need action by local leaders now if we want to continue to attract and expand northeast Indiana as a great place for businesses. Low taxes and economic incentives are helpful but not enough and not visionary. If we do not have the workers to fill the jobs, we will not sustain our edge.

Adequate child care will boost our current efforts. Together, let's make child care a post-pandemic priority around every leadership table. Add it to your discussions and agenda this week.

RachelTobin-Smith is former CEO of SCAN and co-founder of AVOW, Advancing Voices of Women.

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