Dec 1, 2021 - Business

Arkansas' childcare toll

How Arkansas parents said childcare issues impacted their employment, by gender
Data: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

A new report estimates that insufficient or expensive childcare costs the state economy $865 million a year.

The big picture: Basic care for an infant is estimated to be nearly $14,000 per year in Arkansas, with higher-quality care for a toddler topping $18,000.

  • It's also projected that 35% of people in the state live in childcare deserts, forcing parents to rely on friends and family, or simply not work.

The pandemic exacerbated the already tricky situation for parents, employers and childcare providers.

What they did: The report — from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce — used information from 393 Arkansas parents with children ages 5 or younger.

It considers how often parents miss work or education opportunities due to childcare challenges and calculates a direct cost to employers and state tax collections.

  • Similar studies were performed in Alaska, Arizona, Missouri and Texas.

By the numbers: Of the $865 million impact on Arkansas' economy, $665 million is estimated to be a direct cost to employers ($310 million in turnover and $355 million in absences). Another $200 million is the estimated cost in lost state tax revenue.

  • 76% of parents reported missing work due to childcare issues.
  • 27% made adjustments to their educational pursuits.
  • Women are more likely than men to see their employment negatively impacted by childcare issues.
  • There are nearly 230,000 children under age 5 in the state.

Flashback: As part of the American Rescue Plan, Arkansas received $178.5 million in block grants for the Child Care Development Fund Flexible Funding.

  • President Biden's administration suggested the funds support retention of a skilled childcare provider workforce and higher quality care.

What they're saying: "That's a good start, but it's just a start," Bruno Showers with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families told Axios. "What are we going to do when that money runs out and is that even enough?"

  • He hopes this report will drive some action at the state level to help Arkansans with childcare.

In its conclusion, the report states the flexible funding program is important, but it calls for collaboration from the government, businesses, childcare providers and community organizations to keep Arkansans working.

Of note: Childcare is a concern for employers like Tyson Foods, which runs an evening shift (second shift) at most of its processing plants. Childcare providers generally close long before a second shift ends.

  • In November, the company launched a pilot program in Amarillo, Texas, to provide tuition for up to 80 children of its second-shift workers.
  • The company will consider similar programs at other locations based on findings from the pilot, a spokesperson told Axios.

Editor's note: Reporter Worth Sparkman formerly worked at Tyson Foods.


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