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Gaps In Childcare Cost Pennsylvania’s Economy More Than $3B Each Year

In this Nov. 15, 2019 photo Governor Tom Wolf visits a kindergarten in Prospect Park, Pa. In his 2020-2021 budget, Wolf proposed expanding access to childcare, pre-K, and full-day kindergarten.

Lack of access to childcare has a tremendous impact on the Pennsylvania economy, according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. More than half of the 330 parents surveyed for the research said they’ve missed work because of a childcare problem. Others say they’ve delayed education or training, or left a job in order to care for a child.

The report says parents of young children are “making career decisions based on their childcare rather than the best career decisions for their financial stability.” That’s bad not only for today’s economy but tomorrow’s, too: the first few years of a child’s education are critical, and Pennsylvania doesn’t have enough high-quality providers.

The Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission was one of the report’s local partners. Executive director Andrea Heberlein said the problem has been known for a long time, what’s different is how Pennsylvania aims to address it.

“We are now looking at childcare as an economic infrastructure,” she said. “It’s really a workforce issue.”

A 2019 report from the commission found childcare options are especially limited for families who work evening or night shifts or live in rural areas. Heberlein cited a number of underlying issues, such as low wages for childcare providers and federal subsidies that don’t reflect the true cost of providing care. There is no panacea, she said.

“There’s going to need to be action from administration, public sector, private sector, all working together to solve this issue,” Heberlein said.

In a hearing before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week, Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin said childcare presents one of the biggest obstacles to workforce participation.

“We’re looking at opportunities to maybe put funding toward childcare centers, towards helping to fund childcare centers for small businesses,” he said.

A competitive grantmaking program to test non-traditional childcare options is part of the public-private Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center created last year.

In his 2020-2021 budget, Governor Tom Wolf has proposed to spend $30 million to expand Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Program. In addition, federal funding to expand access to childcare through subsidies increased by $15 million this year.

(Photo credit: Gov. Tom Wolf/ Flickr)