The challenges of finding affordable childcare for working parents is quickly becoming a "business issue" that employers must address, likely through enhanced worker benefits
During the pandemic, nearly 20% of working parents had to leave or reduce their work hours solely due to a lack of childcare, according to a national survey of 2,500 working parents, prompting The Harvard Business Review to declare: “Childcare is a business issue.” Indeed, the extent to which the childcare system in the U.S. was broken even before the pandemic was well understood by working parents, but it only came to light when the crisis removed the “safety net of schooling and employee-paid child care.”
While only one-third of the U.S. workforce, or about 50 million workers, have at least one child under the age of 14 in their households, the challenges due to employees returning to the workplace is hard not to notice. Combining reported hours lost for the individual as well as their spouse or partner, indicated a “loss of 14.6 hours per week” due to a lack of childcare during the pandemic, the survey noted. “This is similar in magnitude to the loss of hours due to staff reductions, loss of business, or lack of remote work available.”
Further, the majority of childcare across the country is provided by small business owners, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many of these businesses closed temporarily due to health and safety concerns. Indeed, employment among childcare providers fell by 16% between February 2020 and February 2021. And for those businesses that are open or just reopening, they now have increased operational costs to keep kids and staff safe even as they experience greatly reduced revenue due to capacity limitations, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
With the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus rampant, these structural issues that were exacerbated during the pandemic are likely to remain. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, “child care is a persistent problem in terms of retaining and hiring workers — particularly women — stymying economic growth.”
Luckily, innovative solutions, are emerging to help both employers and their workers overcome these structural hurdles to childcare challenges. For example, Kinside, which is a managed marketplace network, works directly with employers to offer their employees additional options for childcare through employer benefit programs.
“The childcare market is fragmented along with a shortage of inventory available to parents,” says Kinside co-founder Brittney Barrett. Kinside’s other co-founder and CEO Shadiah Sigala explains how the start-up is trying to solve this problem by applying technology to this fragmented market. Sigala says she wants Kinside to be seen as the “Open Table” of childcare providers, enabling working parents to see every available open slot for childcare just as people use Open Table to find reservations at any restaurant across the country.
To achieve this, Sigala and Barrett seek to address childcare challenges holistically by bringing data transparency to the full range of supply and demand issues and childcare cost options for working parents at all income levels. They also have big ambitions to provide predictive capabilities by showing where the “childcare deserts” are and equip entrepreneurs and other providers with the insights to open additional childcare centers to relieve the lack of supply.
For now, Kinside is focused on increasing its collaboration with its current and future customers while doubling-down on its flexible and affordable options. For example, Kinside’s partnership with one of its customers, a manufacturing employer based in middle America, involves addressing both the needs of its front-line service workers and its professional staff.
“Every time employees go out on leave, the company not only gets them returning from to work as planned, but the organization is also increasing the likelihood that these employees stay long term when you find them a childcare option within the realm of affordability for them,” says Barrett. “It pays for itself with one employee.”
Indeed, Kinside and similar future innovative solutions will continue to play an important role by responding to the changing needs of young working families and offering them access to high-quality, affordable childcare. These ventures will also relieve the pressure on employers, allowing them to increase their focus on their core competencies — delivering valuable products and services for their customers.