When I first joined the Iowa Women’s Foundation in 2015, they were embarking on an ambitious goal: to discover the barriers to economic self-sufficiency for women in the state of Iowa by creating a listening tour. Right away, I became part of the core planning committee. We were going to draw on the experiences of community members to drive our mission. I was put in charge of drafting the content to pose to community leaders. What we created became the SHE MATTERS: We Listen and Iowa Wins Tour.
After traveling 4800 miles to 18 Iowa communities, the IWF found that lack of child care was the second greatest barrier to economic sustainability, and that this lack of child care also impacted the first barrier, employment opportunities. In fact, women were unable to take and maintain jobs without reliable child care and there wasn’t enough of it. Anywhere.
The facts are stark. According to the Iowa Department of Human Rights, “Iowa has one of the highest rates with both parents in the paid workforce ... (and) 81% of women in Iowa ages 20-64 (with children under 18) are in the labor force.” And Iowa has lost 42 percent of its child care businesses since 2012 (Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral). The impact isn’t simply a “family issue,” though the anxiety and stress of finding and paying for quality child care for families is significant. Businesses also are impacted, losing approximately $4.4 billion due to absenteeism as a result of child care breakdowns (Population Reference Bureau, analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2011-2015.)
Now the IWF has a laser-focused mission that must become a full-blown community mission: to identify and create appropriate local solutions for the child care crisis. But how? There are several potential avenues including building new centers, expanding existing centers, working with community colleges to train child care providers, offering entrepreneurs the resources and information to start child care businesses, working with businesses to expand and add benefits or to create on-site caregiving. We must also consider how to help 2nd and 3rd shift workers.
There is no magic bullet, just a lot of hard work to be done. The child care crisis affects entire communities in terms of economics, social and racial justice, quality of life, education, and work force. Therefore, from my perspective, any solution must include support and participation by local government. If I become a city council member, I will continue the work to expand child care in our community. It is long past time to address this issue.
Megan Alter is a candidate for Iowa City Council.