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Business leaders push for childcare investment to support current and future workers

Business and manufacturing leaders statewide came together Friday to call for an increase in funding for early childhood education and child care.

Officials with ReadyNation Illinois, which prepares children for success in school and in the workforce, and the Illinois Manufacturing Association spoke to the need of increased child care availability to support working parents.

A new report by ReadyNation Illinois shows more than 70% of kids in Illinois have no stay-at-home parent.

Sarah Hartwick, vice president of education at the Illinois Manufacturing Association, said support for childcare infrastructure is more important than ever.

"The need for adequate high quality childcare accessibility has always existed, as a lot of working moms and working dads know. But it was really exacerbated from what the pandemic did to our society, and then the economy," said Hartwick.

Business leaders are also hoping a funding boost for the early childhood system can stimulate the Illinois economy.

George Davis, former co-chair of the Early Childhood Funding Commission, said the economy cannot recover from COVID-19 until parents are supported with childcare infrastructure.

"It's become more than just a luxury. It's become a necessity for our economy to really not only survive, but to thrive," Davis said.

Davis was appointed to the commission in 2019 by Gov. JB Pritzker. The commission recommended the same steps laid out in the ReadyNation study, Davis says.

Inadequate childcare resources in a post-pandemic world prevent many workers from returning from the workforce, but impacts women at a much higher rate. Hartwick said she estimates the number of women in the manufacturing field has dropped from roughly 50% to somewhere around 30% in the past two years.

ReadyNation and the IMA are requesting a 10% budget increase in the upcoming year's state budget, to ease the stress on parents and the childcare workforce. The funds would go towards increasing childcare availability, providing more services to parents, and increasing wages for childcare workers.

ReadyNation advocates for early childhood education and care to ensure success in school and, later, in the workforce. Therefore, the study says this funding would help not only the current workforce but the future workforce as well.

The immediate hope, advocates say, is also to provide infrastructure for childcare so parents can get back to work. Jobs are currently available in Illinois but, without childcare, parents cannot fill the positions, said Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ashley Villarreal.

"I think it's a kind of just a mix of all the things that are happening—the pandemic, the worker shortage—but the jobs are open for people to get back to work," Villarreal said.

The General Assembly has two and a half months to finalize the state budget before it is sent to the governor for approval.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.