Our podcast examines Iowa’s childcare crisis
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowans faced a childcare crisis. Data shows Iowa leads the nation in the percentage of households with children under six where all parents work outside the home (75 percent). Even more startling, childcare issues cost the state’s economy an estimated $935 million a year in lost taxes and employee absences and turnover.
Those startling statistics emerged in a recent episode of our Back to Business Iowa podcast. Guest Dawn Oliver Wiand is executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation. IWF has focused education and advocacy efforts on childcare as a top barrier to women’s economic self-sufficiency in the state. But it isn’t only women who struggle to access affordable, high-quality care for their children.
Wiand quoted a recent report from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which revealed Iowa has the highest labor force participation rate in the nation (70.4 percent). Many businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees. Access to adequate, affordable childcare in the community is often the biggest barrier they face.
“If we don’t get a handle on childcare, it is not only going to impact our families, it’s going to impact businesses and communities,” Wiand said. “Childcare really is an economic driver and we need to see it that way.”
Three expert guests
Wiand is one of three expert guests featured on the podcast’s recent three-part series, “An Examination of Childcare in Iowa.” Host Steve Adams also interviewed Jillian Herink, executive director of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children, and Ryan Page, childcare regulatory program manager and team lead for the Childcare Bureau under the Division of Adult, Children, and Family Services within the Iowa Department of Human Services.
Guests pointed out that even prior to the pandemic, Iowa communities struggled to maintain an adequate number of childcare providers for working families. According to Wiand, Iowa Women’s Foundation research in 2016-2017 revealed that one in two Iowa children go without access to quality, affordable care. In some parts of the state, five or six children need care for every available opening.
She noted that prior to the pandemic, Iowa suffered a loss of 42% of its child care providers over the five-year period prior to 2016. In recent years, the number had begun to recover. Then the pandemic hit. As more parents work remotely and schools go virtual, the already stressed childcare system flounders again. Making the problem worse, childcare providers in Iowa are among the lowest-paid workers in the state.
Wiand said the good news is that COVID shines a bright light on the situation, so more people are talking about it now than ever before. “Now we just need to come together and put some of this talk into action,” she said.
Learn more about IWF’s work with Iowa communities to create childcare solutions here.