NJ child care industry struggling to regain workers, report finds
Are you still struggling to find reasonable child care in your area?
Research out of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, in conjunction with the New Jersey State Policy Lab at the university, finds that the state's child care workforce is struggling to bounce back from the COVID downturn at the same pace as the workforce of other private industries — resulting in far less capacity than parents were able to count on pre-pandemic.
"Of course, that's really problematic because working parents rely on child care in order to participate fully in our economy," said Debra Lancaster, CWW executive director.
In the third quarter of 2021, New Jersey's child care workforce was at 84% of its pre-pandemic levels, the research finds. Overall private employment, meanwhile, experienced a rebound of 98%.
Certain counties are moving slower than others. In Salem County, for example, the child care workforce in Q3 2021 was 60% of the Q1 2020 level. The share of Q1 2020 levels was also less than 80% in Bergen, Gloucester, and Mercer counties.
Only two counties — Cape May and Ocean — had more child care workers in the third quarter of 2021 when compared to the beginning of 2020, according to the research.
Despite closures caused by the COVID emergency, the count of center-based care providers in 2021 was right around the figure recorded in 2019. The number of licensed home-based care providers continued to drop, however. In turn, child care capacity was still falling short of 2019 levels in 2021.
"The concern is that the workforce is not there to fill the classrooms," Lancaster said. "We can say that they have such and such capacity, but they only have that capacity if they have a teacher in the classroom."
Why is NJ's child care workforce lagging?
Compensation is a major reason for the lack of child care help, according to Lancaster. Workers with higher education have very little incentive to stay in the child care and early education field, the report reads.
The report's analysis of pay suggests that child care workers with a bachelor's degree or higher, earn about a third of their equally educated counterparts in other private industries. Those with at least a bachelor's degree "only earn an average of $908 more in monthly wages" than those in the field with less than a high school diploma.
The report points to moves made by other states with similar concerns. For example, some states have provided child care workers with additional monthly income through the use of federal funding — but that assistance is likely temporary as it draws down from COVID-19 relief funds.
Another way to improve the supply of child care centers is to establish a tax credit for employers, according to the report. Several states provide credits to employers that contract with child care providers. Such a move would be especially useful in New Jersey's "childcare deserts," the report says.
"Ultimately, without public investment in the childcare landscape in New Jersey, the industry and its workforce will struggle with instability," the report reads. "Working families who can’t access affordable quality childcare will continue to face economic hardship. Prioritizing the care economy in the next several decades will be pivotal to New Jersey’s economic success and family well-being."