In Maryland, 21.6% of workers are parents of children age 5 and under. This means that Early Care and Education (ECE) is a priority for more than 1 in 5 workers, and therefore it’s an issue for the vast majority of employers.
Consider these sobering statistics from Counting Our Losses, a recent report from the Maryland Family Network (MFN). Among working Maryland parents with children age 5 and under:
reported a short-term disruption to employment (e.g., a sick child) in the past three months because of issues with child care.
reported a long-term disruption (e.g., moving from full-time to part-time work) in the past year because of issues with child care.
According to the MFN report, over the course of a year, Maryland parents with children age 5 and under who report struggling with child care:
Miss an average of almost 17 days per year
Are late an average of almost 20 days per year
Leave early an average of almost 14 days per year
The MFN survey also identified the following long-term disruptions caused by child care problems for working parents with children under age 5:
8.8% went from full-time to part-time employment
7.5% turned down a promotion
4.3% continued to work part time rather than going full time
0.8% quit working
In addition, nearly 1 in 4 working parents with children age 5 and under have forgone an opportunity to advance their education attainment level.
These short-term and long-term disruptions caused by child care issues probably sound familiar to you, and the costs to employers adds up. In 2016, absence and turnover due to child-care issues of working parents with children age 5 and under cost Maryland employers $2.41 billion.
How much are issues related to ECE costing your business?
Finding a way to pay for child care is a huge barrier for many working parents. According to 2016 data from the Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight, the median cost of care for an infant at a child care center in the county is $17,240 – more than the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a public college. Full-time child care for two children exceeds 20% of income for the majority of families in the county.
In addition to dealing with the staggering cost of child care, many parents have a hard time accessing high-quality ECE programs. Furthermore, as the MFN report explains, parents with two or more children age 5 and under are very often dealing with a “constellation of care” where the complex logistics of child-care arrangements are even more likely to impact parents’ productivity and ability to focus on work.
It’s no wonder that some qualified workers limit their career trajectory – or even leave the workforce – while juggling jobs and child care challenges. Working parents with young children need access to affordable, high-quality child care in order to be reliable, productive employees.
Parents (and would-be parents) are highly motivated to seek out employers who care about ECE and who provide resources to help workers avoid and overcome child care challenges. In fact, a recent survey found that 83% of Millenials would leave their jobs for positions with more family-friendly benefits.
Strengthening today’s workforce may be your primary motivation for investing time and resources in ECE, but when you do so, you also are helping lay the groundwork for the next generation of workers.
ECE is important to our economic future because achievement gaps start early, and students who enter school behind their peers are unlikely to catch up. Consider the fact that for the 2018-2019 school year, only 47% of students entering public kindergarten in Maryland were kindergarten ready. In Montgomery County, only 54% were kindergarten ready.
These numbers are deeply concerning because brain science and educational research confirm the importance of learning from age zero to 5 as the foundation for future success. The first three years, in particular, are a precious “use it or lose it” opportunity. These early years have a profound impact on cognitive and social skills. During this time, the brain produces twice as many neural connections, and at a faster rate, than at any other time in life.
Without sufficient early learning, substantial gaps in language acquisition are already evident by age 3. Remediation is costly and often not successful. Overwhelming evidence shows that children who enter kindergarten already behind are likely to remain so through their educational careers and beyond.
The good news is that high-quality ECE can make a big difference. Making sure every child has access to high quality child care from birth to age 5 will help ALL children in our community be prepared when they enter kindergarten and put them on the path for long-term success in school and in life.
From an economic standpoint, ECE is a smart investment. National data show a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent, and recent research by Dr. James Heckman and his colleagues found that high-quality 0-to-5 programs for disadvantaged children delivered a 13% per-year return on investment.
There are many steps you can take to support working parents with young children and reduce the costs associated with child care problems. This ECE Toolkit provides streamlined guidance and resources to help you:
In addition to doing more to create an ECE-friendly environment for your employees – an investment that will have a ripple effect on future generations and on the local economy – you can support a stronger ECE system by getting involved as a volunteer or advocate.
LifeWork Strategies, a department of Adventist HealthCare located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, supports parents in finding Early Care and Education options as part of its comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP).