116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On July 4, I went out to lunch with my mother and her twin sister. We were greeted at the door with a half-empty restaurant and a nervous apology; there would be a one-hour wait, as there was only one server available for the day.
In storefronts, restaurants and businesses throughout our community, the “Help Wanted” signs have lingered for months. Some organizations have cut back on hours of operation, some have increased starting wages or offered incentives to staff taking on extra hours, and some have even posted reminders to their clientele to be kind to their servers as fewer staff try their best to meet the demand.
“If there is no available affordable child care, you can’t work — and more often than not, child care continues to fall within the responsibility of women.”
There are many reasons for the lack of available staff, and there has been much quarreling in both Congress and the comments over the best way to solve the labor problem. One issue that has a big impact on the availability of labor: child care.
In 2018, following a statewide research effort that identified the lack of available child care spots as a crisis-level priority, Iowa Women’s Foundation embarked on a county-by-county tour of the state to bring awareness and encourage action. The state was losing child care spots rapidly as established providers retired or relocated, and the supply of new child care providers was insufficient to replace them. This was accelerated by the pandemic, and an estimated 33 percent of available child care slots in Iowa have been lost in the past five years.
Dawn Oliver Wiand, president and CEO of Iowa Women’s Foundation, lamented the outsized impact of COVID on women as a contributing factor to the labor shortage. “The number of women looking for work is dropping. If there is no available affordable child care, you can’t work — and more often than not, child care continues to fall within the responsibility of women.”
Her assertion regarding the link between the labor shortage and the child care shortage is echoed by a national survey by ReadyNation, offering the insights of over 400 senior business leaders across the country. Two-thirds of respondents indicated interest in expanding child care supports to staff, but also stated that to do so they would need assistance by way of tax credits or other government incentives.
Just days ago on July 30, a large established provider in Cedar Rapids closed its doors without warning, offering parents an opportunity to pick up their child’s belongings over the weekend. The loss of child care, while problematic for most families, can be catastrophic in a single-parent home. In addition to the lack of second income or a partner to share child care responsibilities, in a typical single-parent home child care amounts to 40 percent of household income.
At this point, Iowa Women’s Foundation is waiting for word from the Child Care Task Force, an initiative launched by Gov. Kim Reynolds as a component of Future Ready Iowa, as to what resources and allocations will be made available to turn the tides.
The impact of the child care shortage and the corresponding labor shortage impacts us all, and we all have a part to play in improving access.
Contact your legislators and let them know you support affordable child care initiatives — and while you’re out and about, be kind to those who are on the job making the best they can of a bad situation.
Sofia DeMartino is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com