Childcare: A Key Driver of Employment and Economic Development in Wyandotte County, Kansas
4 Aug 2023
“Economic development starts with early childcare development,” said Greg Kindle, Wyandotte Economic Development Council (WYEDC) President. Evidence demonstrates that increased access to high-quality early childhood and high-quality early care and education programs results in short- and long-term benefits for a community.
Childcare can –
- Generate up to $7.30 per dollar invested
- Improve labor productivity by allowing parents to work longer, miss fewer days, and pursue continuing education
- Attract homebuyers and increases property values by $13 for every dollar invested in local programs.
- Save school systems money for K-12 education
- Lower rates of incarceration and violent crime
Developing childcare capacity should not be viewed as a mere expense but rather as an investment in the long-term prosperity of a community. According to a new study published in Child Development, children who had access to 24 months or more of high-quality childhood education in their first five years were more likely to graduate from college and had higher salaries at age 26, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
The Importance of Childcare as Infrastructure
Bringing new high-paying jobs to a community like Wyandotte County, Kansas, is essential for economic growth. However, those potential gains could be severely impeded if families cannot find reliable and affordable childcare. Recognizing childcare’s significance as an essential infrastructure component in Wyandotte County, Kansas, is crucial.
“Beyond the traditional pillars of roads and bridges, quality childcare plays a pivotal role in ensuring the success and well-being of families and communities,” noted Kindle. “However, it is important to acknowledge the challenges of accessing affordable, high-quality childcare services in Wyandotte County.”
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the childcare industry had been fragile. Once the pandemic hit the metro area, we lost over 5,000 childcare spaces. Many of those former spaces have not reopened, putting further strain on the system for families,” said Paula Neth, President and CEO of The Family Conservancy.
Unlike the K-12 education system, which receives federal, state, and local funding, childcare businesses are built on parents’ fees. “If you have an infant that is zero to 12 months old, it can cost you $13,920 a year. A toddler will cost you $9,401,” noted Neth. “So if you have an infant and a three-year-old needing childcare, you will pay $22,961 a year. With the median household income for a family of $50,707, childcare costs are close to 43 percent of a family of four household income.”
The cost of childcare places a tremendous burden on working Wyandotte County families. For households with multiple children, these expenses can quickly become overwhelming, often rivaling the cost of rent or mortgage payments.
The Burden on New Families
For many new parents, the exorbitant childcare costs create a barrier to rejoining the workforce or pursuing career advancement opportunities. This predicament hampers their economic prospects and stifles their ability to contribute fully to the community.
According to a report from StrongNation.org, the shortage of childcare results in an estimated annual loss of $57 billion in revenue, earnings, and productivity for employers, employees, and communities. Searching for open positions on LinkedIn in Wyandotte County, the search lists over 5,000 open positions.
A recent Child Care Aware of America (CCAOA) study found that the average annual cost of center-based child care surpasses the average yearly cost of in-state tuition at a public four-year university. Childcare has become a significant monthly financial burden for families raising young children.
The enduring scarcity of childcare has substantial implications for the economy. When parents face challenges securing childcare, they often have to reduce their work hours or withdraw entirely from the workforce. This profoundly impacts a family’s income and contribution to the local economy.
Retaining Quality Childcare Employees
Another critical aspect often overlooked is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining qualified childcare workforce. The wages earned by these dedicated professionals often fall below what their skills and responsibilities merit. Consequently, the sector faces a high turnover rate, which ultimately impacts the quality of care our children receive.
The median wage for childcare workers in 2022 was $14.22 an hour or $29,570 annually, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the rents ranging from $1,000-$2,000 in Wyandotte County, the average childcare salary barely covers many necessary expenses to live a fulfilling life.
Instead, many childcare workers have turned to fast-food and retail employers like Target, which offer starting pay of $15-$24 per hour with benefits and less intensive work. With the overreliance on parent fees and few sources of outside funding, childcare centers struggle to entice new workers and retain qualified employees—leading to them being chronically understaffed.
Potential Ideas for Businesses to Help Families Alleviate the Cost of Childcare
With improved childcare options, companies can benefit from improved productivity through increasing work hours, missing fewer days, and pursuing further education—all of which help improve a business’s bottom line.
The State of Kansas expanded the use of the Kansas Employer Child Care Tax Credit for all business types to utilize. Kansas businesses can apply to deduct from their state income taxes a portion of the child care expenses they incurred—such as providing child care for employees or helping employees pay for other child care. There is a cap of $30,000 annually or 30% of the total amount spent by the business to cover childcare costs, locate a child care provider, or to operate a childcare facility.
Adopting flexible working arrangements like remote work or unlimited PTO can ensure parents won’t be forced to use their dedicated vacation time to look after their sick children.
To help families alleviate the cost of childcare business can offer:
- Dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSA);
- Workplace-provided child care options;
- Paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child.
Investing in Childcare Is an Investment in the Future of Wyandotte County, Kansas
“It’s time to recognize childcare’s pivotal role in economic development. By recognizing the importance of childcare as essential infrastructure, we can create a community where families thrive, businesses flourish, and every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Greg Kindle, Wyandotte Economic Development Council President. To create a thriving community, policymakers, community leaders, and residents must unite and advocate for comprehensive solutions including the following:
- Increasing funding for childcare subsidies
- Expanding access to affordable early education programs
- Promoting partnerships between employers and childcare providers
Additionally, public-private collaborations can play a pivotal role in addressing these challenges. Local businesses, philanthropic organizations, and community leaders can join forces to establish scholarship programs, and training initiatives.
The affordability and accessibility of childcare in Wyandotte County, Kansas, are vital drivers for employment and economic development. Investing in high-quality early childhood education programs yields significant short- and long-term benefits for the community, such as generating a return on investment, improving labor productivity, increasing property values, saving education costs, and reducing crime rates.
The Wyandotte County Economic Development Council’s Collaborative Approach to Solving Childcare Issues With Its Business Partners
Through WYEDC, Mindy Rocha, President and Owner of CJ Industries, has also become involved with local childcare issues. Inadequate childcare is an often underappreciated hurdle to employment that is one of WYEDC’s focuses. “Greg Kindle (WYEDC President) helped me get more involved in the child care aspect of our workforce issues,” said Rocha. “Greg knows if there is anything I can do to help him do better for our community, he can call me.”
“I’m working with an initiative called Raising WYCO through The Family Conservancy. We’re working with childcare providers to see where we’re lacking and what we need. We are investigating how we can help support them because we don’t have enough affordable quality childcare providers. It’s necessary that community members realize that a childcare facility is a small business. They’re not always seen that way.”
The WYEDC hosted an engaging and insightful symposium, joining forces with local business partners, including Urban Outfitters, to focus on an essential aspect of community well-being: childcare services. The event revolved around a dynamic Q&A session that shed light on the vast array of childcare resources and their accessibility within the community. With the growing need for reliable and high-quality childcare options, this symposium provided a platform for open discussions between the business community and childcare providers.
Wyandotte County Economic Development Council
Let Wyandotte County Economic Development Council (WYEDC) help you and your business harness “The Power of the Dotte.” Our mission is to promote and strengthen Wyandotte County’s economy through innovative approaches to programs, partnerships, incentives, and leadership in industrial, residential, office and retail markets.