Let me share some data with you. More than 2.3 million women have left the labor force in the United States since February 2020, putting the women’s workforce participation rate at 57 percent—the lowest it’s been since 1988. The female labor force in Delaware specifically has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Building on that, families in Delaware pay an average of $20,000 in child care per child per year. To finish the picture I’m painting for you, there is a maximum licensed capacity of 35,481 across the Delaware child care industry but a total of 54,261 children under the age of five. In 2020 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Delaware saw 10,392 births.
It’s long been a struggle for working parents to find access to the affordable and quality child care that enables them to participate in the workforce. It’s something employers have dealt with well before the pandemic, but the numbers are more alarming now than ever. Families are losing access and facing long waiting lists. Providers are struggling to survive. Our state’s youngest citizens are caught in the middle.
Yet this problem is two-fold. We cannot forget that child care providers are also business owners and nonprofit leaders. They have their own operating costs and are faced with paying competitive wages. Providers are not exempt from the staffing shortages we are all experiencing.