Childcare Is Critical for the Economic Growth of York County
03 August 2022
“We can’t grow without more childcare facilities,” said Lisa Hurley, Executive Director of York County Development Corporation. “Employers want to hire, but if workers can’t find childcare, they may be unable to accept the position. This makes it critical that we address our childcare shortage and take active steps to increase capacity. We need to start looking at early childhood care as critical infrastructure” According to the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation, York County has a childcare gap of 357, meaning that 357 children need childcare but there are no slots for them. This gap has grown by over 100 positions since 2020 and is determined by the number of 0-5 year-olds compared to the number of licensed positions during daytime hours. This does not take into account children who may be impacted by second or third shifts so the gap could be higher. It also does not take into account children who may be at an unlicensed facility or with family or friends.
This childcare shortage is being felt throughout the state. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska has been studying childcare in our state and released alarming news coming from their pandemic research - Nebraska is in a childcare crisis. The Nebraska COVID-19 Early Care and Education Provider Survey III: Holding it Together—and Hanging by a Thread surveyed 750 childcare providers, finding that approximately 70 percent of those surveyed had staff leave the field completely. 90 percent of “providers have had difficulty hiring for open positions, citing a lack of applicants and inability to offer sufficient pay,” according to the Institute.
“We hope this information will help guide state and community efforts to support the early childhood professionals whose work is so essential for children, families, and communities in this state,” said Kate Gallagher, director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute and one of the report’s authors.
Also of concern is the financial impact the pandemic has had on childcare workers - people critical to our ability to maintain economic growth. The Institute found that 30 percent of providers “indicated that in the last year their household would sometimes run out of food before they were able to purchase more.” This could partially be attributed to COVID-related closures since over 50 percent reported needing to close at least once and 66 percent reported a decrease in annual income.
“We can’t grow without a robust childcare network. It’s important to address the immediate needs of childcare providers, such as how to sustain them during a COVID-related closure. Long-term, we need to view child care as critical infrastructure. We invest in roads and site development to prepare for business expansion. We need to invest in childcare as well so that companies can have workers to fill those buildings,” said Hurley.
The Institute has made some recommendations such as increasing access to healthcare coverage for childcare workers and providing resources to prevent burnout. In addition, a fund could be created to help childcare providers who have to shut down due to COVID. While providers accepting child care subsidies can now bill when a child is absent (an important COVID change), this does not help when an unsubsidized child is absent due to an exposure or when the center itself has to shut down due to an outbreak.
“We need everyone in our community to come to the table to help solve this challenge. Local leaders, business executives, workforce partners and stakeholders can solve this challenge collectively,” said Hurley. “It will take creativity and funding, but we can make childcare a priority in York County and, if we do, this will position York County for new job growth.”
YCDC is working with the York County Childcare Advisory Committee, the York County Childcare Task Force, and a group of business leaders on how to solve this need. We know that we need to support our current providers and that we need to expand our capacity. We do have a request. In the near future, this collaboration will be releasing surveys. Please answer when you see it!