The childcare crisis and how it’s affecting the workforce

Posted On January 4, 2024

Many business leaders around the country say they can’t find enough workforce in today’s economy. While some point to the aftereffects of the pandemic or the idiosyncrasies of the younger generations, one of the main problems doesn’t have anything to do with a willingness to work.

It’s childcare – or the lack of it.

Our guest in a recent episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston” was Autumn Zellner, CEO of STARS Early Learning Academy in Fairhope, Alabama. And she says there is a crisis in childcare.

“I take phone call after phone call from desperate parents who have either moved into the area, or had a brand new baby, and they are trying to secure the best place they can,” she said. “Again and again, I have to explain to them there’s not enough spots. They have to consider any spots. They might have to consider their next-door neighbor. They might have to consider grandma. They might have to consider not working. And that is really where I see the crisis take hold.

“There are families out there who want to work, and they cannot simply because they either can’t find childcare, can’t find quality childcare or are unwilling to put their child just anywhere.”

Running a childcare facility is expensive. Labor costs are rising, and at most facilities, tuition has not risen to the point of meeting those costs, as owners try to keep their service affordable. They’ve largely made up the difference with the help of various grants that became available during the pandemic. But many of those grants are being discontinued, Zellner said.

“I predict that we see tuition rates rise dramatically, and families are going to have to make a difficult decision,” she said. “Am I going to continue working and figure out how to pay this higher tuition? Or am I going to stay home with my children?”

Some parents will be unable to afford increased tuition, she said. And some facilities will fail as a result, leaving even fewer spots available.

Some major employers such as the Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa have addressed the issue by starting their own in-house daycare facilities. Zellner says this isn’t just a nice thing to do – it’s also a way that companies like Mercedes-Benz can give themselves an advantage in hiring employees.

Meanwhile, Zellner, a former teacher who has a passion for early childhood education, has a two-year waiting list and would like to expand her business. But land and construction are expensive as well. So for now, she continues to serve about 70 children in her facility in Fairhope.

Providing quality childcare is important to Zellner, whose facility carries a five-star rating and was featured in a recent issue of Business Alabama. It’s of paramount importance to parents as well, of course, but the way things are now, they have to take what they can get.

“We’re not even in a situation where there’s choice,” Zellner said. “They’re going to choose a spot based on where they can get their child in. And that’s if they’re one of the lucky ones who find a spot.”

Categories: Blog, Parenting, What's Working with Cam Marston