New Reports Detail Impact of Pennsylvania’s Continued Child Care Crisis
Members of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Early Learning Investment Committee were joined on Friday by State Senator Lynda Schlegel Culver and members of the community to discuss new research detailing the worsening impacts of Pennsylvania’s continued childcare crisis.
According to a new report released at the event from the nonprofit ReadyNation and the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission (PA-ELIC), gaps in Pennsylvania’s childcare system are stressing the state’s working parents and costing families, employers, and taxpayers about $6.65 billion annually in lost earnings, productivity, and tax revenue.
The $6.65 billion cost estimate is the result of an economic analysis based on a new survey of Pennsylvania working parents with children under the age of five. Survey results provided evidence of the various ways in which parents’ work commitments, performance, and opportunities are diminished by gaps in the childcare system. For example, 60 percent of parents surveyed reported being late for work, leaving work early, or missing full days of work due to childcare problems, and nearly half reported being distracted at work. More dramatically, 27 percent of working parents said they had to quit their job and 18 percent have even been fired due to childcare struggles.
“The findings of the survey confirm the important role of childcare for today’s working families,” said Steve Doster, State Director of ReadyNation. “When parents don’t have reliable, affordable and quality child care their work suffers, productivity plummets and they have difficulty advancing in their careers.”
The new analysis also suggests that parents’ challenges with child care for young children (under age 3) are far more costly to the economy – accounting for $5.65 billion of the overall annual toll. When comparing this figure to a similar study from 2018 for children under the age of 3, we see that the economic impact has more than doubled from $2.5 billion to $5.65 billion.
“The childcare industry was decimated by the pandemic, with providers closing – many temporarily and a significant number permanently,” said Andrea Heberlein, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission. “Beyond its immediate impact on the workforce and economy, Pennsylvania’s child care crisis damages the future workforce by depriving children of nurturing, stimulating environments that support healthy brain development while their parents work.”
According to the survey, 70 percent of working parents surveyed reported that access to child care is a challenge and more than half said it is a significant challenge to find child care that is either affordable (61 percent) or high-quality (51 percent). These reactions align with long-standing problems with the commonwealth’s child care system since nearly 60 percent of residents live in a “child care desert,” an area where there are over three times as many children as licensed child care slots. The average cost of infant/toddler care is almost that of public college tuition and less than half of the state’s childcare capacity is considered high quality.
Low wages within the childcare sector were identified as driving a historic staff shortage in the childcare system. According to another report released this week by the nonprofit Children First, the average childcare teacher in Pennsylvania earns $12.43 per hour or less than $25,844 per year. According to the report, there is no county in the commonwealth where that covers the cost of living.
“The Early Care and Education sector in Pennsylvania is on the brink of collapse,” said Mai Miksic, Early Childhood Education Policy Director for Children First. “Our research shows that 50 percent of early learning educators say they do not plan to or are unsure of whether they will remain in their jobs in the next five years due to low wages. Approximately 21% of staff rely on SNAP benefits and 21% are insured by Medicaid. This was the case even though most teachers surveyed for our report had a college education.”
Bonnie McDowell, CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA reinforced the challenges of recruiting and retaining childcare staff. “Currently, we are down 9 teachers at our 2 local YMCAs, this is impacting 40 child care slots,” said McDowell. “According to a new Start Strong PA survey of more than 1,000 child care providers across the state, there are more than 3,600 open staff positions resulting in more than 1,500 closed classrooms with a combined waitlist of more than 35,000 children. This represents thousands upon thousands of families waiting for care.”
Kurt Schertle, Chief Operating Officer of Weis Markets, hosted the day’s discussion at Weis Corporate Headquarters in Sunbury. Schertle noted that despite the many problems facing the state’s childcare system, one positive outcome of the pandemic has been the increased attention that is being paid to the issue of childcare. “We are seeing increased bipartisan focus to understand the challenges of this sector and seek solutions to further stabilize and strengthen childcare providers and ensure that families have access to quality care,” said Schertle.
“This report is just the tip of the iceberg and is conservative at best. It only shows what we can quantify,” said Chris Berleth, Incoming President of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce. “We know there's more to this story - that every day, workers in Columbia and Montour Counties are making fluid decisions about who will watch their children, who will be late to work, who will stay home for a season. This translates to a workforce shortage and uncertainty in hiring, with candidates whose resumes show gaps in employment, frequent job changes, and signal unreliability to the outside observer. An insufficient childcare system plays a big role in this, effectively sidelining some of the best and most innovative minds. Employers know that the instability in the childcare system is bad for business.”
The ReadyNation / PA-ELIC report outlines a series of action steps for both policymakers and the private sector to better ensure affordable high-quality child care for Pennsylvania’s working families. Private sector actions include flexible working schedules, child care referrals, tuition assistance programs, dependent care flexible spending accounts, and even on-site care. For policymakers, participants stressed the urgent need for increased wages to better compete in the current labor market, increased availability of subsidized care for low-income working families, and increased incentives for providers to boost their program quality through the Keystone Stars program.