Study: N.J. needs more child care workers and centers as industry recovers from pandemic
The child care workforce remains “substantially below” pre-pandemic levels, the report states. When comparing the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021, the child care workforce is at 84% recovery. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)
The child care industry has yet to recover from the pandemic and needs to grow to serve New Jersey’s growing population and increasing need for care, according to a new Rutgers University report.
COVID-19 closures led to massive disruptions in child care and a drop in the workforce, while pandemic-related restrictions led to a slower recovery than in other sectors. The 100-page Rutgers report analyzes why child care remains scarce and how to recruit and retain workers in the understaffed industry, and urges lawmakers to act as the supply and demand changes post-COVID.
“Without access to high-quality child care, the economy cannot thrive and children do not develop to their potential,” the Rutgers researchers said. “Because these programs are publicly felt costs, their solutions ought to be publicly funded and supported.”
The pandemic has had harsh effects on New Jersey’s working parents. Nearly a quarter of parents reported they supervise their kids while working, have cut their hours at work, or use paid leave to remain home.
The need for child care is growing. More children under the age of 6 have parents in the workforce than 10 years ago, with Gloucester, Atlantic, and Hunterdon counties seeing the largest shares of children with working parents in 2020, at about 77% each, according to the report. Ocean County had the lowest share, 61% in 2020, the report says.
But slots for child care dropped 26% from 2019 to 2020, and as of 2021, did not recover to its 2019 level, with a nearly 4,000 slot gap, the report says. And New Jersey lost nearly 1,000 home-based child care providers, while traditional child care centers recovered the losses during the pandemic, according to the report.
In every county, child care needs are expected to grow. Ocean, Somerset, Morris, and Burlington counties are expected to see an explosion of population growth for young children between 2019 and 2034.
In Burlington County, the study estimates that the supply-demand gap for child care will grow by 18% between 2019 and 2034. In the coming years, county officials should focus on “better understanding the needs of stay-at-home parents to better estimate” future demand and ensure growth in child care centers, researchers said.
The child care workforce remains “substantially below” pre-pandemic levels, the report states. When comparing the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021, the child care workforce is at 84% recovery. Salem County lost the largest share of workers in the industry — nearly 40%.
Improving wages would not just attract more people to the industry, but also reduce exploitation and burnout among the women and immigrant workers who are disproportionately represented in child care staff, the report says.
More opportunities for advancement and further education would also be key to boosting the worker pipeline, the researchers suggested.
On top of finding more workers, New Jersey needs to increase the number of child care programs, the report says, noting that current regulatory and licensing requirements can keep the industry from growing.
The state also needs to collect more specific data to plan for the trajectory of child care needs, according to the report. Researchers want the state to collect information on parents’ needs and preferences, taking into account their commuting patterns, work schedules, poverty status, and other economic, cultural, or geographic factors.
“Each county has their own unique needs in terms of data collection,” the researchers wrote. “A statewide push to better understand parent preferences and child care workers’ needs is in order.”
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