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When Child Care Burdens Harm Business, Who Picks Up the Pieces?

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In today’s tight labor market, businesses across the country are struggling to recruit and retain staff. What many businesses do not realize is that parents’ child care responsibilities are part of the problem.

In December 2022, the Bipartisan Policy Center surveyed parents and employers to understand the role child care plays in their decision making. BPC found that nearly 7 in 10 business owners do not think child care impacts their ability to hire or retain staff, but more than half of parents say child care responsibilities influence their decisions about where to work. This gap suggests that businesses are unaware of the extent that child care impacts their business, underestimating their role in supporting working parents.

A lack of child care significantly impacts parents’ ability to work, leading parents to struggle to meet work responsibilities, change hours, or leave the workforce. Businesses benefit from parents having stable child care. Sixty-one percent of business owners think they have some responsibility for child care, but the degree businesses support parents varies widely. Businesses have a unique opportunity to support working parents by offering prioritized scheduling, flexible hours, and remote work. Many parents who work hourly jobs (56%) don’t know their schedules more than two weeks in advance, making it nearly impossible to find child care on such short notice.

This survey is the tenth in BPC’s series designed to understand parents’ child care needs and preferences. A summary of the survey findings, including the gaps between parents’ child care needs and small business owners’ perceptions of those needs is highlighted below.

Changing Work Arrangements: During the pandemic, parents experienced a variety of changes in employment and child care arrangements.

  • 53% of parents changed their work schedule, women are more likely than men to say that their work schedule changed (56% vs. 48%).
  • 44% of spouses/partners changed their work schedule.
  • 44% of parents changed their primary child care arrangement.
  • 43% of parents changed jobs.

Hiring and Retention: COVID-19 impacted small business owners/executives’ ability to attract and retain their workforce.

  • A majority of small business owners/executives say access to child care does not impact employee retention (68%) or hiring (66%) at their business.
  • One in four small business owners/executives say child care is not important to their job or business.
  • More than half of parents say child care responsibilities have been a factor in accepting a job (56%) and reducing their hours (52%).
  • Two in five parents (38%) say that their child care responsibilities have impacted their ability to work over the past month.
  • Among those who have missed work, over half (56%) have missed 10+ hours of work in the past month due to child care responsibilities.

Accommodations Provided: There is a disconnect between what benefits businesses say they offer and what working parents understand they are eligible for.

  • Small business owners/executives are more likely than parents to say their business offers paid parental leave (53% vs 42%), unpaid parental leave (50% vs 44%), flexible hours (56% vs 46%), remote work options (35% vs 29%) and prioritized scheduling (35% vs 26%).
  • Eighteen percent of businesses provide benefits to help parents pay for child care, but only 10% of small business owners/executives offer on-site child care services.
  • Nearly a third of parents (29%) say their employer does not offer any accommodation.
  • Nearly half (46%) of employed parents took off a month or less after their youngest child was born.
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Accommodations Desired: There is also a gap between the benefits that would be helpful to parents and the benefits small business owners are likely to offer.

  • The largest gaps between parents and small business owners/executives are regarding benefits to help parents pay for child care and on-site child care services.
    • 85% of parents say benefits to help pay for child care would be helpful, but only 38% of small business owners indicate they are likely to offer this benefit.
  • Almost 80% of parents say on-site child care services would be helpful, but less than 30% of small business owners indicate they are likely to offer this benefit.
  • The most agreement between parents and small business owners/executives is on flexible work hours and prioritized scheduling, however there is still a large gap between what is offered and what is desired.

Responsibility of Care: Parents and small business owners/executives believe the responsibility for ensuring that child care is affordable and accessible is shared by parents, employers, and government entities.

  • A strong majority of parents and business owners/executives think various levels of government (state, local, and federal) are responsible for ensuring that child care is affordable and accessible.
  • A majority (82%) of small business owners/executives think that parents are responsible for ensuring that child care is affordable and accessible.
  • A smaller majority of parents and small business owners think that businesses are responsible for ensuring that child care is affordable and accessible (61% and 58% respectively).

Everyone – businesses, the economy, and working families, benefits from child care. Without it, working parents productivity and participation in the economy suffers, leading to negative economic impacts for businesses and families. Businesses, parents, the federal government, and state governments have a shared stake and responsibility in ensuring child care is accessible and affordable for working families.

Businesses do not bear the sole burden of ensuring access to child care, but there is a role for them. There is a mismatch between the benefits that parents would find most helpful and the benefits that businesses are likely to offer. There is also a gap between the benefits that businesses report offering and those that parents perceive. Identifying and addressing the disconnects between parents and businesses presents a unique opportunity for businesses to support their workforce and help resolve challenges working parents face.

Child care is costly, inaccessible, and incompatible with many families work schedules. This puts strain on working parents, especially women, leading them to quit their jobs, reduce hours, or leave the workforce. To avoid this, it is time for businesses to consider how to best support working parents. Employers and parents should capitalize on their mutual interests to create family-friendly workplaces that support both the needs of employees and meet the demands of their businesses.

This poll was conducted between December 6-11, 2022, among a national sample of 800 parents and 608 small business owners/executives. The interviews were conducted online. Results from the full parent survey have a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, and results from the full small business owner survey have a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points.

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