Arkansas, like many other states, is facing a crisis when it comes to quality, affordable childcare for workers.
According to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, the child care crisis costs Arkansas’ economy as much as $865 million a year – this includes costs to businesses and to tax revenue because of turnover and absences or employees.
Other statistics from surveys conducted in Arkansas and nationally suggest:
- 53% of working adults in Arkansas ages 25-54 were parents. Of those parents, 37% had children under the age of 6.
- 85% of Arkansas parents cannot find high-quality care for their infants and toddlers.
- When parents can find high quality care, they often cannot afford it. The median price of infant care in Arkansas is about $7,300 a year, and higher quality care is over $10,000 a year.
- 34% of respondents report that they or someone in their household has left a job, not taken a job, or changed jobs because of problems with child care in their last 12 months.
There are childcare deserts across Arkansas, and due to the regulatory requirements of the industry, it is difficult to quickly license new facilities, much less find employees willing to work for the relatively low wages. COVID-19 also decimated childcare facilities in the state with more than 500 childcare workers dropping out of the labor force between 2020 and 2021. The state is still recovering from that loss.
Excel By Eight, a nonprofit that works on healthcare, education and childcare issues, is working with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and a host of other business groups to tackle the lack of childcare facilities, which is expected to worsen in the coming years. A newly formed coalition includes the State Chamber and Associated Industries of Arkansas, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Pilgrim’s Pride, Northwest Arkansas Council, St. Bernard’s Healthcare, a large number of local chambers of commerce, and several other philanthropic organizations.
Angela Duran, executive director of Excel By Eight, said that having quality childcare is not only important for the workforce, but it’s critical for young children and the future workforce.
“We know that the biggest brain development for young children does happen in those first few years of life. And in fact, it peaks at about 1-year-old. And a lot of the executive function skills that are important to employers down the road are actually being developed in those very first few years of life,” Duran said.
Randy Zook, CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, said his organization is invested in this for similar reasons.
“If you’ve got children, young children, and they need childcare and you need to go to work, if you don’t have any place to park your children that you can rely on and depend on that, that can take care of them while you’re at work, you’re not going to be able to go to work. So we’re hard-pressed to get enough people to get to work already. And this just adds to that problem,” Zook said.
He noted that in a recent conversation with a parent, the cost for their two children to have childcare, it costs them $1,700 a month, or $20,400 a year – more than their mortgage.
Zook also noted that it can be very difficult for manufacturing workers, who work second shifts or overnight shifts outside of 8 to 5 traditional working hours.
“This is even more problematic for manufacturers because they’re usually multi-shift operations. Try finding infant care for the second shift. Try finding infant care for the overnight [worker]. It’s increasingly problematic and increasingly critical,” he said.
Duran is hopeful that the coalition being built can generate enough political momentum and solutions to be successful in the 2025 legislative session. What that solution will look like is too early to tell.
“It probably is some combination of how can we use government dollars, how can we use business dollars, and how can families themselves contribute so that it’s a shared responsibility,” Duran said.
You can watch Duran’s and Zook’s conversation from this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics and Capitol View in the link below.