Guest opinion: Tour reveals reality of child care challenges

The wheels on the bus go round and round to raise awareness of child care challenges

By Kris Johnson

A big green bus with an image of a boy wearing a superhero cape rolled across the state the first week of August.

The boy, as well as a young girl leaping in the air on the other side of the bus, were certainly eye-catchers. And that was the point of the bus tour, which was aimed at raising awareness of child care as an issue that must be addressed for the sake of our families, our communities and our economy.

The Association of Washington Business Institute and the Children’s Campaign Fund Action partnered in the tour, which began Monday, July 31, in the Puget Sound region and ran through Friday, Aug. 4.

Along the way, the bus visited child care facilities in every corner of the state, providing elected officials, policymakers, business leaders and others an opportunity to learn first-hand about the issues facing the child care sector.

In addition to visiting child care centers, the tour included meetings where employers, community leaders and others could participate in roundtable discussions about the state of child care in local communities. Information gathered will be shared in a report after the tour, with the aim of addressing child care affordability and accessibility in ways that work for everyone, including families and employers.

The bus tour is a project of the Legislator Education & Action Project (LEAP). The partnership, which launched in January, is hosting a series of educational events to develop a better understanding of early childhood issues and how they impact children, families and the workforce.

Child care has emerged as a major issue, both here in Washington and across the country, and AWB has been part of the discussion for several years. No longer regarded solely as a social issue or something for families to address on their own, the growing lack of affordable child care is now understood as one of the major factors — along with changing demographics and the housing crisis — responsible for the current workforce shortage.

It’s a costly issue for both families and employers. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found it costs about $14,35 per year to care for a toddler in a child care center, which is more than the cost of college tuition.

And a 2019 report from the Washington State Child Care Collaborative Task Force found the lack of child care costs businesses more than $2 billion each year in employee turnover or missed work and costs the state economy more than $6.5 billion per year.

The issue isn’t going away on its own. A July survey from the Association of Washington Business found that 13 percent of Washington businesses report a lack of child care is one of the major challenges facing their business, and more than 50 percent continue to report a lack of qualified workers for open positions.

Solving these challenges won’t be easy, but it’s critical that we develop a shared understanding of the issues — and a shared vision of how we can begin to address them. Touring the state’s child care facilities in a big green bus with eye-catching images of children is one way to start the discussion.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.