Kimberly Marselas

They often make less than $12 an hour.

They toil through long shifts that start before dawn, doing some of the nation’s most meaningful work on behalf of one of its most vulnerable populations.

They tend to be women, and, often, especially in entry-level or lower-paying positions, they are immigrants.

I’m not talking about CNAs, but rather childcare workers, whose cause this month has been championed as essential to a full economic recovery.

On Sept. 19, the Washington Post called the number of childcare workers quitting a “red flag” for the economy. When the rest of America’s workers need daycare or early education centers to return to jobs, they’re finding it harder than ever to snag openings. Childcare positions are down by more than 260,000 nationwide since the pandemic’s start, and states like Oklahoma are citing that contraction as a hindrance to other industries poised to grow.

Open jobs are going without applicants. Current workers, whose average salary is $24,230, are leaving as starting pay in other sectors soars to $15 an hour and beyond.

In mid-September, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a report calling America’s childcare system “unworkable,” positioning both parents and providers to be beneficiaries of the proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better federal budget reconciliation. Tax credits and other social supports would run up a $450 billion bill, more than the $400 billion initially pledged for the caretaking economy.

Aging services providers including skilled nursing operators still hope to get their share of financial and operational support through the package, and observers are watching the negotiation process carefully as Republicans (and some Democrats) insist the price tag must come down for passage.

But, as Ruth Katz of LeadingAge noted eloquently in a call with her members last week, pitting the long-term care industry’s needs against those of the childcare industry would be short-sighted.

“It’s easy to look at this and see childcare as competing (with) the care we provide for older adults. Every penny more they get is one less for us. But the truth is, our staff can’t come to work without childcare that they can afford and they can count on,” Katz said. “We are all connected. We are all dependent on one another. If we didn’t know this already. COVID, our master coach, our teacher, wants to drill us on this lesson, and ask us, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Skilled nursing has shed 380,000 jobs since March 2020, and most of those doing the leaving have been women. Women in general are leaving the labor force at a rate four times greater than men — some 1.8 million were out as of June.

Finding high-quality childcare isn’t a new issue for long-term care workers, or any parent in America, really. But the pronounced shortages and rising costs have stuck a pin in it this fall.

Staffing experts have told me they’ve seen some operators help employees with the addition of onsite childcare, providing vouchers or getting creative with scheduling/split shifts to allow working parents to be there for school drop off or school pick up. 

So, what are you doing about it, and is it making a difference for retention or hiring purposes? How can this common thread tie together two industries and make them both stronger?

 Let me know at [email protected].

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor at McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.