OKLAHOMA CITY – Earlier this month, Sen. Carri Hicks traveled to Las Vegas, where she served as a panelist at the 2021 NCSL Jobs Summit. The Oklahoma City Democrat was asked to share insight and policy recommendations from her September interim study on the childcare crisis and its impact on parents, especially mothers, returning to work.
“The workforce is changing, not only in Oklahoma, but nationwide. I’m glad the childcare crisis was given special attention at this meeting as it’s not only impacting our state, but our national economy as well,” Hicks said. “During my interim study, we found that women, especially minorities, young adults, adults with low education and low-wage workers have been the hardest hit during the pandemic, and that there is a desperate need for better access to childcare for working mothers. The childcare crisis is so bad that one in five women have decided to leave the workforce permanently, citing family obligations as the main reason.”
The conference brought together legislators from around the nation who serve on workforce, labor, finance, and education committees to talk about problems facing the workforce and how those are impacting the states and nation overall.
“Even before the pandemic, over half of Oklahomans lived in a childcare desert or struggled to find centers that offered nontraditional care before 6:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m., limiting what jobs they could apply for or forcing them to leave the workforce altogether,” Hicks said. “Oklahoma is not alone in this struggle. Employees’ needs are changing, and employers are going to have to rethink how they do business and the benefits they provide for their workers. They need livable wages to be able to afford childcare and more flexibility to take care of their families.”
Hicks noted two more problems hurting the childcare industry and care availability. One is the low pay and rigorous licensing and training requirements of the childcare industry, which are deterring many from entering the field. The other was revealed in a recent Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) report that showed over the past decade, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has cut the Childcare Subsidy by 78%, forcing many facilities to close.
"It’s hard to get an economy moving again when almost half of your potential workers can’t leave the house. That's basically what it means when unemployed and underemployed people can’t take jobs because they care for their kids at home — either because there is no childcare available or because that care costs nearly as much as or more than what their job would bring in."
Hicks believes the childcare crisis could be averted by incentivizing companies and state agencies to adopt or maintain flexible scheduling; moving reimbursement of the Childcare Subsidy from attendance to enrollment to account for families having to quarantine for COVID-19; increasing wages; and providing safe workplaces to minimize disruptions from rolling quarantines, which includes enacting evidence-based recommendations for mitigating COVID-19.
For more information, contact: Sen. Hicks: (405) 521-5543 or Carri.Hicks@oksenate.gov