Spotlight on Alaska’s Child Care Workforce Shortage

July 14, 2021

“We’re hearing people can’t go back to work because they don’t have child care. Yet, I can’t get people to come to work to take care of children.” Ethan Petticrew, Cook Inlet Native Head Start

Alaska’s child care sector and families have struggled through the pandemic. Now the current workforce shortage is making access to child care more difficult for families returning to work.

Earlier this week, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce “Make it Monday” forum focused on the impact of workforce shortages for sectors like child care and the ripple effects.

High-quality child care businesses are personnel-heavy enterprises, and operate on razor-thin margins. These small businesses can’t easily raise rates to pay more to attract and retain workers because families can’t afford to pay more. Families are tapped out paying the high cost of child care, sometimes more than college tuition.

Child care businesses have long struggled with staffing issues because early educator wages are so low (on average, $12 to $13 an hour). Teaching in early childhood education is one of the lowest-paid occupations in the United States, resulting in high turnover. 

Current workforce shortage and competition in the marketplace have made it even more challenging to find qualified early educators.  Child care programs want and need a more sustainable business model.

A Stable Child Care Workforce is Essential to Recovery

Child care is essential to Alaska’s recovery from the pandemic. As discussed at the “Make it Monday” forum, one reason people are not be returning to work is lack of child care. This is significantly impacting women. The country is seeing the lowest workforce participation of women since 1988. 

In order for parents to return to work, child care needs to be fully open and staffed.

A qualified, stable workforce is key to expanding access to quality early childhood education for all children in Alaska. Children thrive on consistent, reliable relationships, and when that continuity of care isn’t available they suffer.

It’s time to invest in a better child care system, and compensate/recognize early childhood educators as professionals partnering with working parents to raise the next generation.

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