Untapped Potential Report Highlights Child Care Gaps in Arkansas

Untapped Potential Report Highlights Child Care Gaps in Arkansas
(Monica Sedra / Unsplash)

A shortage of child care centers, lengthy waitlists to get into those available, and monthly costs rivaling car payments are just a few of the burdens surrounding child care shouldered by working parents.

New research outlined in Untapped Potential in Arkansas, a recent report conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in partnership with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Excel by Eight Foundation, suggests that child care gaps like these cost Arkansas’ economy an estimated $865 million each year, including an estimated $200 million lost annually in tax revenue.

The need for high-quality, affordable child care is not a new one. Parents and employers alike have struggled for years with how to juggle a healthy work/life balance while maintaining a profitable bottom line. The Untapped Potential report validates these woes with survey data from 393 parents of children five years of age or younger. The report reflects 76% missed work due to child care issues in the past three months, a percentage The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) proposal from the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education is working to reduce. The ARPA plan allocates $464 million in dedicated funding to increase capacity for areas of the state with a demonstrated need as well as improve the quality of child care and early childhood education in existing facilities.

Issues surrounding child care impact Arkansas’ workforce productivity and the state economy. The report suggests in addition to missing work, these challenges may prevent some Arkansas parents from pursuing postsecondary education and cause others to forgo promotions. Breakdowns in child care may force parents to occasionally arrive late to work or leave early, and in some cases, leave the workforce altogether—a pain felt by families and many of Arkansas’ employers amid current workforce shortages. The report attributes a $665 million annual price tag to these absences and employee turnover. That’s a big number. Here’s another one: 175,000. That’s the number of children served annually by Arkansas’ 1900+ programs for working families. During the pandemic, Arkansas was fortunate to have a net gain of more than 100 programs to help with child care access in some parts of the state.

Employers become part of the solution when they adopt creative ways to adapt to the needs of working families. Child care options and flexibility within the workplace are proving to be attractive options among job seekers faced with juggling the demands of working while parenting. The businesses that embrace and address the child care need may find themselves with a competitive advantage over businesses that don’t. It’s important to have continued collaboration between parents, employers, educators, and government to create meaningful, impactful solutions for Arkansas’ families. There is no doubt that gaps in child care are an ongoing and expensive conversation to have. Not leaning into this workforce issue discussion may be even more costly.