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Some believe the private sector should do more for working parents. Here’s what that could look like

Employers are responding to this call in different ways, from investing in onsite childcare to instituting smaller-scale benefits, such as flexible work policies and backup care.
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Alex Castro

· 5 min read

The cost of raising a child in the US is rising, and the lack of a strong social safety net makes the prospect of having a family harder than in other industrialized nations.

While new parents in some states are able to take paid leave after having a child, no such program exists at the federal level. High childcare costs make staying in the workforce untenable for some parents, and public funding intended to alleviate this burden remains unreliable.

In light of these challenges, some lawmakers believe the private sector needs to play a stronger role in supporting working parents. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed a paid family and medical leave insurance program on these grounds in April. Echoing this argument, Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson said “government is not the solution” to the country’s childcare challenges during a speech at the Best Place for Working Parents (BP4WP) national summit in Nashville on May 9. The business community should be a key leader in implementing family-friendly policies, he posited.

Employers are responding to this call in different ways, from investing in onsite childcare to instituting smaller-scale benefits, such as flexible work policies and backup care. Still, some policymakers remain hopeful that the public sector will do more to support working families—especially at a time when restrictive reproductive policies may hamper Americans’ decision-making when it comes to having kids.

What private sector investment looks like. BP4WP promotes family-friendly policies for US employers, offering resources and assessments to the businesses within its network. At its national summit, HR leaders detailed a range of efforts to boost benefits for working families at their organizations.

One higher-end investment that’s garnered more interest from employers in recent years is onsite childcare. Frontier Co-op, an herbs and spices manufacturer, runs a childcare center out of its headquarters in Norway, Iowa, that supports 110 kids. Employees can send their children there from the time they’re six weeks old; the company also offers before and after-school programs for elementary schoolers, as well as a summer camp program.

Frontier employees only pay about $2 an hour for onsite childcare, and VP of HR Megan Schulte said her organization spends about $300,000 annually on the benefit. But she added the investment pays off in other ways—in an industry characterized by high turnover, it takes Frontier less than 30 days to fill manufacturing roles.

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United Parcel Service (UPS) has also recently piloted onsite childcare for emergency situations, while Tyson Foods opened a $5 million childcare facility near its poultry processing plant in Humboldt, Tennessee.

Onsite childcare isn’t going to make sense for every organization, Cheryl Oldham, SVP of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, told HR Brew. The foundation has published a childcare roadmap for employers that lays out a range of options HR teams can look into, including flexible scheduling, backup care, and subsidies.

Volkswagen recently started offering additional time-off for emergency situations to workers at its Chattanooga plant, and moved the last shift of the week from Friday at 10pm to Sunday at 10pm. Kenco, a third-party logistics company, uses a tool called “Shift Swap” that allows workers to put up their shifts for bid. The hope is these changes allow hourly and shift workers more time for their families, HR leaders said at the BP4WP conference.

An ongoing debate. There’s a general bipartisan consensus that the US should do more to address childcare challenges, Oldham said. “I think the key, though, is how to solve the challenges…that’s where the differences are.”

A panel at an event hosted by Moms First focused on employer-sponsored childcare.

Jessica Bal/Moms First

Childcare gaps cost state economies anywhere from hundreds of millions to almost $10 billion in 2021, according to one Chamber of Commerce Foundation report. This kind of data “is really key to helping drive policy and to get business leaders more engaged,” Oldham said at a May 14 panel hosted by Moms First, an organization advocating for issues like paid leave, equal pay, and childcare.

Oldham highlighted positive examples of the public and private sector coming together, such as Michigan’s “tri-share” program, which splits childcare costs equally between employers, employees, and the state.

Still, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she sees more room for the public sector to contribute, particularly at a time when state-level abortion laws are limiting some workers’ choices about having families. While the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda included plans for universal pre-K and lowering childcare costs, those provisions didn’t make it into the final bill that was passed. Paid family leave legislation has yet to gain traction in Congress.

“​​If you were totally committed to motherhood, and you actually had as your national goal, more children, wouldn’t you have all kinds of support for women?” Clinton said in a separate panel with Moms First founder Reshma Saujani.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.