Sinem Buber is a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. She’s reviewed the data on how lack of affordable care options is affecting the U.S. labor force. She’s seen 1.2 million fewer women show up in the workforce data since the pandemic started, in part due to child-care issues.
And as the mother of two boys, now ages 4 and 6, she’s also lived it firsthand, especially when her children, as well as those of her colleagues, were sick this winter.
“I had to work during the night, [which is] when my other colleague can work, after his son goes to sleep,” said Buber. “So it was really a hard time for us to go through this winter.”
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Buber said she’s fortunate, since her position and employer allow her flexibility to work from home. She and her husband take turns watching their boys if they’re ill or school is closed. It’s a scenario familiar to many workers, as the pandemic has led many caregivers to leave their jobs and schools and day-care centers shut down.
The cost of care for the economy
Companies across the U.S. are dealing with both a shortage of workers and a shortage of child care. A recent study by Ready Nation found that difficulty finding care for infants and toddlers costs $122 billion in lost earnings, productivity and revenue each year — more than double what it was five years ago. An analysis by the Boston Consulting Group forecast that the U.S. will lose about $290 billion a year in gross domestic product, or GDP, in 2030 and beyond if the number of paid caregivers doesn’t increase and employees leave the workforce for care duties.
Two-thirds of OneMain Financial‘s 9,200 employees are female. The personal lending company has workers in 44 states in corporate offices, operations centers and branches.
“We had pretty high attrition,” said Linda Martinez, a district manager for OneMain. ”I feel like all companies did a couple years ago, and over the last 12 months, I feel like we’ve really gotten a handle on it.”
Addressing employees’ caregiving needs
The company worked to address the different needs of its workforce by adding new flexibility and care benefits. Branch employees were in the office, facing customers, throughout the pandemic, while many central operations and corporate office workers had hybrid options.
“What became apparent really early on is what we offered pre-pandemic wasn’t going to cut it moving forward,” said Heather McHale, chief human resources officer for OneMain and a member of the CNBC Workforce Executive Council.
As a mother of three, including a daughter with special needs, McHale understands the situation personally, as well. OneMain now offers 24/7 access to care specialists, provides referrals to screened caregivers through Care.com and subsidizes up to $125 per day for seven days of backup care.
With so many children falling behind in school over the past couple of years, the company also now offers access for up to five hours a month of tutoring for K-12 students.
“We want to meet our employees where they are; we want to give them the access to the care that they need,” McHale said.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute found 61% of companies currently offer flexible work arrangements. While less than a quarter of firms now offer child-care referrals and subsidies, that number is expected to jump to half within the next two years.
Government urges industries to do more
In an effort to push employers to do more, the U.S. Department of Commerce is encouraging the semiconductor industry to offer more affordable care options for workers by requiring companies that are seeking more than $150 million in government funding for semiconductor facilities to submit workforce development plans for the workers who will build and operate their facilities.
The move is needed to help increase women’s participation in the labor force, the department said. That’s down to the fact that if women participated at the same rate that men do, there would be more than 10 million additional workers.
“If you want to out-innovate the rest of the world, you’d better have all of our best minds, including women, working on these problems,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “It won’t happen without investments in child care.”
Join “Women & Wealth,” a CNBC Your Money event, on April 11 as we explore ways women can increase their income, save for the future and make the most out of current opportunities. Register at cnbcevents.com for this virtual event.