The issue of daycare availability once was a problem seemingly faced only by parents of young children. However, the issue of daycare availably is a much more complicated and far-reaching problem facing whole communities. In recent years, the issue of lack of inadequate childcare has become acute.
According to a study from the Buffett Institute (2019), prior to the pandemic, 91% of Nebraska Counties with childcare facilities y did not have enough available daycare slots to meet the current demand.
It’s not hard to take that stat by itself and start to tug at the heartstrings. Just think of those kids with no place to go, their parents desperately searching and weighing if one of them will have to give up their career.
Think of the community that might see young families move away, or the employers that might face some extra gaps in staffing.
With this picture painted, communities around the state are working towards addressing this shortage. Working with groups like First Five Nebraska and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, they are learning more about what steps to take. This process can lead to variety of models of solutions, but a need they all have in common is financial support. But despite the story of a daycare shortage speaking to people so easily, finding that financial support can be difficult.
The search for financial support leads to trying to marshal local stakeholders, at both the individual and business level. Finding individuals who might contribute their time or whatever they can give to a charitable cause is one thing. Finding those businesses that have the financial ability to make those larger contributions is another thing entirely. If the decision makers for these local businesses don’t approach the issue a stance of “why is this our problem”, then, at best, they often approach the idea of contributing financially with very serious trepidation.
It’s hard to blame them. Small businesses traditionally operate on razor thin margins, and these margins were made even thinner by the pandemic. It can feel like their business can only spare so much. Giving that to something like a daycare center that might be needing support for several years before it has the ability to stand alone can feel like they’re risking a lot on something that might not solve the problem.
But, what if that business could see that by not to being part of the solution, things would get worse, not only for the children and their families, but for the business itself?
In the winter of 2019-2020, First Five Nebraska commissioned the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, Bureau of Business Research to study the economic fallout of inadequate child care options on family income, employer profitability and state revenues. Those findings showed that prior to the pandemic, gaps in Nebraska’s child care infrastructure cost the state nearly $1.4 billion in direct and multiplied economic losses each year.
That number can be staggering, but sometimes in Nebraska there is a disconnect between the less population dense areas and how they relate to the larger population bases in the eastern part of the state. High level, statewide economic studies like the one First Five Nebraska commissioned can be incredibly informative but those outside of the Lincoln/Omaha area often question just how applicable the information is to their home.
Melissa Trueblood, Ph.D., an Economist with NPPD’s Economic Development Team, sought to find a way to make that statewide data more relatable to individual communities, and when she broke it down for Lexington, Keith, Seward and York Counties, the economic impact of inadequate childcare came back just as harsh, if not more so, when compared to the statewide data.
“So far, we have analyzed the impact of inadequate childcare in four communities throughout the state,” said Trueblood. Summarizing the data from the four communities, “we found, for communities, the average cost per community of inadequate childcare for families with children under five years of age is $1,929,120. This cost is due to lost wages due to absenteeism, turnover, not being able to work full-time hours, or forgoing a promotion or career advancement.”
The financial impact isn’t limited to just those with children in daycare. According to Trueblood, “we found that for employers, the average cost per community of inadequate childcare for families with children under five years of age is $988,281 due to the costs of absenteeism, turnover, and lost productivity.”
Inadequate childcare can create a multi-million-dollar impact in local economies, and these numbers are a great example of how the daycare shortage in Nebraska is a problem for more than just those who need someone to watch their kids so they can go to work. Hopefully, economic developers and other local advocates for this cause can utilize this information to help build partnerships to help find creative ways to attack this pressing need in the state.