By: Emily Klonicki, Executive Director - Alignment Rockford & Caitlin Pusateri, President - Rockford Chamber of Commerce
These tough COVID years have highlighted how the lack of child care availability and affordability impact hiring, retention, and productivity. Businesses can’t thrive without productive employees, and parents can’t maintain or succeed in their jobs without a robust early childhood system to care for their children while they are at work.
This relates directly to what we at the Rockford Chamber of Commerce continually hear from our members, that there is one specific issue keeping them up at night: workforce. Whether it be retaining their current talent or attracting new, skilled talent, workforce remains a top concern for the business community. The problem is both immediate – a need for workers NOW – as well as long-term – the need for workers to fill gaps left by retiring Baby Boomers or to grow the business. While the workforce issue is multi-faceted, one driving culprit is the lack of access to affordable, reliable child care, forcing professionals into stressful, missed days of work or, even worse, an undesired exit from the workforce entirely.
Viewed on a macro scale, the economic implications of the child care crisis are staggering. Infant-toddler child care challenges drain an estimated $4.9 billion from Illinois’ economy every year, according to a new report from ReadyNation. Nationally, the price tag of infant-toddler child care insufficiencies total $122 billion. These numbers are more than double what they were in 2018 and reflect only the limitations of care for children younger than age 3.
But child care is more than just a solution for today’s workforce. It is also important to invest in high-quality early childhood education to develop the workforce of tomorrow. A highly skilled workforce of the future begins to acquire needed skills in early childhood. Both technical (or academic) skills and soft (or executive-functioning) skills that employers seek - like persistence, cooperation, and interpersonal skills - have their roots in early childhood, when high-quality programming can best set children up for success in school, careers and life.
Zeroing-in on these issues, Alignment Rockford serves as the convener of the early childhood coalition, Ready to Learn in Rockford. In our work with families, service providers, and other organizations in the Rockford Area, we encounter ongoing need for high-quality child care options as well as other support for parents and primary caregivers of children under the age of 5. These supports may come in the form of child care assistance subsidies from the state or from employer benefits like increased paid leave for working parents, flexible scheduling, or remote work options. The investment in care and education of young children and in the well-being of their families has great community return, as children who enter kindergarten ready to learn are much more likely to succeed academically and have greater employment opportunities, higher earning power, and better lifelong outcomes. The early childhood crisis facing our community is hardly unique to Rockford; however, we as a community can choose to take action and change the course of our future by addressing these needs in a meaningful and coordinated way.
As the President of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce and the Executive Director of Alignment Rockford, we see the needs of the youngest members of our community, the need to support parents of young children, and the ways in which business leaders can be involved. This is why we are members of ReadyNation network of business executives and why we encourage Rockford employers to join us in supporting solutions to the child care crisis. The ongoing work at the local level is vital, but we must also call on policymakers at the state and federal levels to invest in early care and education. Governor Pritzker’s proposal to invest in the early childhood system gives us hope that the state is moving in the right direction. Helping to strengthen our workforce and economy — for today and tomorrow, alike — is truly everyone’s job.
This story was published in the RRStar on March 17, 2023. Find it here.