Child care crisis impacting state economy

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Oct 7, 2019 at 10:08 PM

The high cost of child care is impacting more than young parents. A recently released report shows the lack of access to affordable child care for pre-school-aged children is costing Tennessee taxpayers, families and businesses a combined $1.34 billion annually.

Cosponsored by the advocacy group Tennesseans for Quality Early Education and business and nonprofit organizations across the state, including the Chambers of Commerce in each of the Tri-Cities, the local Ayers Foundation and Ballad Health, the report identifies a lack of affordable childcare among the state’s greatest economic challenges.

Based on a survey of 2,330 Tennessee parents with children under age 5 and companion reports with business data to specific to six geographic regions of the state, the report puts the dollar figure on lost earnings, production and revenues caused by childcare issues at $43 million in the eight counties Northeast Tennessee alone.

The local numbers include $28 million in lost earnings, $9 million in lost production for the region’s businesses and $7 million in lost revenues for the state.

Miles Burdine, president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce who serves on TQEE advisory board, said, “This report makes very clear that our Tri-Cities area needs more quality, affordable child care.”

“I think many of us with employee-parents have a sense of the impact of child care challenges on our workforce and business productivity. But there’s nothing like having the data to shed light on a problem,” Burdine said.

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Cantler said the report identifies a critical obstacle to local workforce development with hard data supporting “something we already knew.”

“We’re underserved,” Cantler said. “The options for families is do they work or do they take care of their children.” And for businesses, he said, the lack of affordable child care makes it difficult to recruit workers from outside the area who may choose not to come here in order to stay close to family members they rely on for help with their children.

“It’s across all of Tennessee but we need to find an answer for Northeast Tennessee. Our employers need a workforce. Folks who are comfortable with their childcare are better workers. It’s just one more level of stress on our workforce.”

TQEE Chairwoman Blair Taylor said the report “shines a bright light on one of the biggest challenges facing Tennessee working families, businesses and our economy. 

“The evidence is clear … Tennessee’s child-care system doesn’t meet the needs of working families with young children,” she said. “Our intention is for this report to serve as a call to action for collaborative problem-solving by state government and the private sector to … mobilize Tennessee’s business ingenuity and creative public policy to crack the code for great child care.”

Titled “Want to Grow Tennessee’s Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis,” the report found 98 percent of parents surveyed in the Tri-Cities area said inadequate child care hurt their work productivity or opportunities.

Half cited difficulty finding quality child care, 62 percent cited affordability,  and 62 percent cited a lack of child care for evening shifts and weekend work. Thirty-nine percent had turned down a new job or promotion due to lack of child care, 33 percent had turned down education or training, 35 percent had had their hours reduced to part time and 32 percent had had to quit a job or were fired or demoted. 

“Right now we’re just getting the data we need to start bringing folks to the table to look at solutions for childcare,” Cantler said.

“We need to start talking to our school systems, talking to our employers, looking at our regulations on child care and looking at best practices in other parts of the state to see if there is something we can replicate here,” he said.