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Our view: In East Grand Forks, leaders focusing on child care concerns. Good for them.

Last month, East Grand Forks held its first town hall meeting on the child care crisis, at which parents and child care providers were able to share their thoughts on East Grand Forks’ perceived issues with the industry. Another meeting was held this week.

Herald pull quote, 5/7/22
Herald graphic
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Each month, it becomes more apparent the region’s child care crisis will not right itself. Fixing the problem – one exacerbated by a labor shortage that’s affecting so many employment sectors – will take a focused approach, and one that likely will require some sort of public investment.

It won’t be cheap, nor should it be.

As people leave the workplace in the so-called “Great Resignation,” it’s becoming increasingly obvious that a lack of available child care is at least partly to blame. That’s important since, according to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, “access to quality, affordable child care is vital to our workforce and economy.”

As reported late last year by Forum News Service, the North Dakota Labor Market Information Center reported 360 job openings in November for personal care and service workers, an increase of 171 openings since November 2020. The same labor market is tight in Minnesota, too. The child care industry has a 17% vacancy rate across the state, Minnesota’s state Department of Employment and Economic Development reported, with 1,519 job vacancies not including supervisors in the second quarter of 2021.

So it’s good to see East Grand Forks community leaders sitting down with residents to work out the problem.

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Last month, East Grand Forks held its first town hall meeting on the child care crisis, at which parents and child care providers were able to share their thoughts on East Grand Forks’ perceived issues with the industry. Another meeting was held this week.

Prior to the first meeting – organized by East Grand Forks Economic Director Paul Gorte – more than a dozen businesses and 300 parents participated in a survey to detail their own child care needs.

Among the findings:

● 53% of parents said child care availability impacted their family planning.

● 18% said their spouse or partner adjusted their work schedules to accommodate their child care needs.

● 16% said they have chosen to become a stay-at-home parent.

● 12% said they cannot afford child care.

Among the remedies discussed at the meeting were starting private foundation grants for child care centers to cover the cost of child care for employees, providing funding to help providers hire additional help, and creating child care facilities at places like Sunday school classrooms that are unused during the week.

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In North Dakota, efforts include funds appropriated to possibly include matching grants for employer-funded child care stipends, for example. That sounds reasonable, considering the costs associated with children.

During last month’s meeting in East Grand Forks, First Children’s Finance Business Development Manager for Minnesota Jessica Beyer said expenses are piling up for child care providers. Infant care often loses money. It has pushed up costs to consumers – some of whom are paying $500 to $1,000 per month, per child.

Don’t blame the child care providers. Generally, they just can’t find help, forcing them to pay more for employees.

The end result is an exodus from the workforce by young parents, further crippling other sectors of the region’s economy.

East Grand Forks is on to something with these town halls. It’s a start, and it should help local leaders better understand this growing crisis.

What to read next
In a report this week in the Grand Forks Herald, the owner of the Drayton, North Dakota, Valley News & Views said that if a buyer isn’t found by next month, the weekly publication will close so she can focus on her health.
Whereas longtime elected officials do gain power with their longevity, they also gain valuable experience that cannot be quickly absorbed by newcomers.