Child care challenges are impacting families, businesses, and communities. Together, we must address these challenges in order to help families and the economy thrive.
The global pandemic has made this an exceptionally difficult time for the child care industry. Even before the global health crisis, many families in Mississippi were already finding it difficult to find child care, particularly for infants and toddlers. Now, finding child care has become even more difficult, and I see families suffering every day.
I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of Corporation for Global Community Development, which is the outreach mechanism for Jackson Revival Center Church (JRC). JRC has its own school, the Little Ambassadors Developmental Learning Center (LA). Our goal at LA is to facilitate the safe and healthful care of children and to promote the emotional, cognitive, communicative, perceptual-motor, physical, spiritual and social development of the child at age-appropriate levels.
The childcare challenges faced at Little Ambassadors Developmental Learning Center are sometimes overwhelming. The pandemic has crippled all aspects of what we know as normalcy. It’s especially frustrating to know that there is an invisible threat to the well-being of the children and families we serve in a low-income census tract.
The challenge of providing a safe and clean space in these unprecedented times is effecting change and revealing the grim reality of the sustainability of the services we offer. If a child becomes ill in a class of five, the entire class and teacher has to quarantine for 14 days, which interrupts fulfilling the mission of LA. There are many scenarios like this one that challenge the delivery of quality child care every day, which, in turn, affects the sustainability of each household connected, as well as the overall workforce.
And, yet, there are many children who do not have the opportunity to attend such programs. The current early childhood system does not fully meet the needs of Mississippi families or employers. Nearly half (48 percent) of Mississippians live in a child care desert, defined as an area in which there are at least three children for every licensed child care slot.
We know that the community and economy are stronger when children have such opportunities. A recent ReadyNation Mississippi fact sheet showed that a skilled, productive workforce is essential for a strong Mississippi economy. We know that high-quality early childhood education (ECE) supports the workforce now and into the future. Yet, 70 percent of Mississippi children under age six—roughly 142,000 children total— have parents working outside the home, but many of these children are not in high-quality ECE programs. We need more quality options for families, so that working parents are able to work with peace of mind, and their young children have the safe, nurturing environments that will help lay the foundation for a successful future.
In my role at BancorpSouth Bank, I know that this lack of access and quality is detrimental to parents’ work productivity and puts our future workforce at risk as well.
A lack of affordable, high-quality care leads to a number of challenges for these parents while they’re working. A 2019 ReadyNation national report found that a shocking 86 percent of parents who are primary caregivers said problems with child care hurt their efforts or time commitment at work. Diminished productivity costs employers $12.7 billion annually nationwide, which contributes to a total economic loss of $57 billion per year in lost earnings, productivity, and tax revenue due to the infant-and-toddler child care crisis.
Mississippians need child care options to repair our economy, help working parents, and enable young children to thrive. Meaningful investments that support our state’s youngest learners and their parents will forge a stronger, more productive Mississippi in the years to come.
Evelyn Edwards is the Vice President and Corporate-Wide Community Development Grant Specialist at BancorpSouth Bank. She resides in Mississippi.