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Child Care is a Business Affair

Finding affordable, high quality child care was a problem for millions of American families before COVID-19 further complicated their struggles to balance caregiving responsibilities with work. In fact, child care as a public policy concern and as a necessary ingredient for the success of American workers and the American economy has drawn increased attention in recent years. There has been a growing interest in and support for family-friendly initiatives such as paid parental leave, public pre-K, and expanded programs to help low-income families access child care services. Nonetheless, resources and policy commitments continue to fall short. In many parts of the country, low- and middle-income parents still lack good child care options that meet their needs, creating an ongoing workforce challenge as the U.S. economy emerges from the pandemic.

Through its Early Childhood Initiative, the Bipartisan Policy Center has been active in policy debates about child care and early education since 2014, issuing numerous reports and recommendations for state and federal action to better meet the nation’s need for a robust and equitable child care system. The specific focus of this report is the role businesses and employers play in that larger endeavor. For several years, BPC has worked with the business community on early childhood issues and to bring employer voices into the policy debate about how the child care market can be improved to work better for workers and companies. This report summarizes input gathered through a series of roundtable discussions with business leaders during 2019 and 2020. In addition to presenting ideas and perspectives on child care from these discussions, we offer policy recommendations that are informed by the business community’s views and experience in this area.

Several broad points capture recurrent themes from our discussions with business leaders and can help frame future efforts to find bipartisan solutions to America’s child care challenges:

  • Families, government, and businesses have a shared stake in—and a shared responsibility for—expanding access to affordable, high quality child care. All these parties must therefore be part of the conversation about how we can better meet America’s child care needs
  • Most business leaders are aware that child care is a critical issue for their employees, and understand that access to child care can improve worker productivity, morale, recruitment, and retention. But some are less sure how child care access affects their business specifically, or what their role should be in addressing this issue.
  • Business size affects business resources and ability to support workers’ child care needs. Many small business owners view their employees as “family” and are keenly interested in helping them overcome child care challenges. But smaller businesses may not be able to provide child care support or services in the way larger businesses can.

Given these differences, no single approach or policy solution will be appropriate for all businesses, communities, and situations. Business leaders are united in saying they want to help, but they need options.

The remainder of this paper provides additional background and context on these issues, summarizes key takeaways from the roundtable discussions, and suggests next steps and recommendations for business owners, state and local leaders, and federal policymakers.

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