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Our view: The child care crisis in the Dakotas and Minnesota is bad for business

To us, the growing trouble with child care is among the biggest contributors to the Great Resignation in the Dakotas and Minnesota. It’s why we hope state lawmakers, governors and decision-makers continue to seek landmark solutions.

Herald pull quote, 1/1/22
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It’s a phenomenon with a number of catchy names: The Great American Walk-off. The Great Resignation. The Big Quit.

Most anyone who manages a business in this region has seen it. Anyone who patronizes a business around here has probably seen it, too, in the form of longer lines, reduced services and higher prices.

Simply put: In the Dakotas and Minnesota, workers are hard to come by.

Over the past week, a series by Forum Communications Co. reporters has highlighted the problems associated with the region’s labor shortage, from businesses being forced to downsize to trucking companies struggling to move products.

Perhaps most alarming is how a crisis in child care is fueling the problem. For many young parents, finding affordable child care is difficult, and many are deciding to just stay home.

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Who can blame them? Child care costs can come in at $500 to $1,000 or more per month per child. Openings are so scarce that parents are reserving spots months before a child is born.

To us, the growing trouble with child care is among the biggest contributors to the Great Resignation in the Dakotas and Minnesota. It’s why we hope state lawmakers, governors and decision-makers continue to seek landmark solutions.

Efforts are underway, including $17 million in appropriations during the 2021 special session of the North Dakota Legislature. Those dollars likely will include matching grants for employer-funded child care stipends for their employees, as well as funding for workforce child care assistance. Millions of dollars also were appropriated in the 2021 regular session.

Further, a committee has been assembled in North Dakota – one that includes a handful of unelected state leaders – to seek solutions to the state’s child care crisis.

Lawmakers, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, recognize the problem. In September, Burgum said via Twitter that “access to quality, affordable child care is vital to our workforce and economy.” He also emphasized child care issues in his sweeping Accelerate ND plan, unveiled in September. Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for the governor, said it’s “something we’re prioritizing as a state.”

This is good, and those committee members, Burgum and lawmakers deserve credit for these recent developments.

Is it enough? Not yet, but it’s a good start.

Mandating higher minimum wages for all workers isn’t the answer to the Big Quit. Businesses know they need to pay better wages or accept the risks. They don’t need a government mandate to remind them that better pay attracts better, and more, workers.

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Rather, even more money should be dedicated to helping employees pay for child care and to motivate workers to enter the child care field. And here’s a suggestion from Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks: Consider a program that provides something akin to low-interest student loans for parents of young children to help pay child care fees.

Whatever the solution, the current child care environment seems unsustainable. After all, as Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, told the Herald, “it’s shocking that the cost of child care is on par with the cost of a college education.”

It’s an issue that could cascade through generations. As young parents today spend for child care, they might be forced to forego savings plans; their children will grow up and, possibly, attend college via large student loans rather than with parental help. As young adults, they’ll leave college with big debt, forcing them to make their own difficult decisions about child care.

Until this is fixed, more young parents will simply stay home.

That’s just bad for business.

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