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Plain Talk: Gov. Burgum says North Dakota's baby boom is driving a need for new child care policy

Gov. Doug Burgum says one of the biggest challenges in getting this policy passed may be the age of many of the state's elected leaders. "The state's average age is 35," he said on this episode of Plain Talk. "That is not the average age of the Legislature."

Doug Burgum stands in front of a wall with trees painted on it and the alphabet across the top.
Gov. Doug Burgum presents a legislative proposal regarding child care at Bright Futures Learning Center on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — When I began my writing career 20 years ago, North Dakota had an aging, shrinking population. Our young people were leaving. New people weren't moving here. When we debated education, much of it was focused on what to do about declining enrollment. School closures and consolidation were a sad reality.

Things have improved. Where once our state was among the oldest in the nation, it now consistently ranks among the youngest (our media age of 35.2 years is good for fourth youngest, currently ). But there are challenges associated with that turnaround, and among them is how to ensure that North Dakota's child care businesses can keep up with demand for their services.

Gov. Doug Burgum, who along with a coalition of other state leaders recently announced a policy package to address that issue , spoke about the conundrum on this episode of Plain Talk.

Here's one mind-blowing statistic he shared: Of North Dakota's more than 760,000 residents, more than 64,000 are age 5 and under. These children live in more than 42,000 North Dakota households.

The high cost, and slim availability, of child care is impacting an enormous chunk of our population.

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Burgum talked about the need for the state, and the private sector, to step in to help child care businesses start and stay open, to help child care workers find good careers in their industry, and to help North Dakota families pay for childcare services.

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And this isn't just about helping families with kids. It's about helping North Dakota's entire economy, Burgum says. "We have a trained workforce in North Dakota that we've invested in over their lifetime ... and they have to stay home" to take care of kids, he argued.

Freeing those workers up by making child care accessible can also help address North Dakota's workforce shortages.

What challenges does the governor see in getting this policy passed? He noted that many of North Dakota's elected leaders are from a generation that may not understand that this is a problem.

"The state's average age is 35," he said. "That is not the average age of the Legislature."

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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