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Opinion: The Childcare Challenge: Meeting Demand & Empowering Women

 One of the biggest problems impacting the growth of America’s economy is childcare. Access to affordable and reliable childcare is a critical barrier to women, impacting their ability to fully participate in the workforce. We must work together to create better opportunities and smarter policies for Missouri women. No matter if you’re Democrat, Republican or someplace in between, childcare is impacting everyone.

At United WE, our solutions are always rooted in data. We know to create sustainable, nonpartisan policies to improve the childcare situation, we must know more about the issue.

We spoke to hundreds of Missouri families in our 2021 Town Halls  initiative, and found that 93% of families experienced child care disruption during COVID-19, and 30% lost access to all child care providers. Due to the pandemic, more than 400 child care centers closed with no plans to reopen. Many of the centers that do exist are still struggling to stay open, meet licensing requirements and pay a living wage. Our research also shows that monthly child care costs are currently unaffordable, equaling or surpassing many Missouri women’s monthly income. 

“I remember sitting down to look at our taxes and realizing we’d paid more in daycare than we had for our mortgage,” one Missouri Town Hall attendee shared with United WE. The full report from our Town Halls initiative is available on our website. 

In November we held a webinar with McKinsey & Company to discuss the 2022 Women in the Workplace research, which shows that gender diversity on executive teams is strongly correlated with better economic performance across industries. Unfortunately, access to childcare impacts women disproportionately to men in the workplace. More often than not, responsibility for caregiving and housework fall on women at all employment levels from entry level to C-suite. In fact, women leaders are four times as likely as men at their equivalent working level to be responsible for family’s housework and childcare responsibilities. Improving access to childcare is not just an issue for women in Missouri, but across the country. 

One key piece of the childcare crisis is occupational licensing. By increasing licensed providers, the ongoing demand for childcare can be met with more adequate supply. Currently, the data surrounding childcare lack an emphasis on understanding the licensing barriers.  I am pleased to share that thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, United WE is starting a two-year national research study evaluating childcare licensing state-by-state. With this initiative, we’ll gather more data necessary to inform policy change in Missouri and throughout the nation.

We will:

  1. Conduct state-by-state research to develop a baseline of licensing requirements, certifications and barriers. 
  2. Conduct a nationwide survey of mothers who are entrepreneurs, so that we better understand their challenges in a post-COVID-19 environment. 
  3. Invite a diverse group of women to create a Women’s Entrepreneur Childcare Task Force. Made up of women-owned childcare providers and mothers who are entrepreneurs from multiple states, the task force will help us review the research and develop recommendations. 
  4. Advocate for policy change by sharing the research and recommendations from the actions above to convene and educate elected officials, policymakers, community and business leaders, and thought leaders about the barriers and creative solutions to reduce onerous licensing barriers and help address the childcare crisis for women entrepreneurs. 

With this research project, we will develop solutions that align the need for childcare workers with the barriers that exist to meet this demand. According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, women can boost the Missouri economy by 10-15% by 2025 if given the option to fully participate in the workforce. We must understand the issues and advocate for meaningful change to improve opportunities for women.

One critical piece in addressing the childcare demand is developing policy recommendations at the city, county and state levels to improve access to quality care. I invite you to unite with us and incorporate childcare considerations into 2023 policy updates.

United WE is an acclaimed, solutions-focused, nonpartisan thought leader on all issues that affect women and families. To learn more about United WE, visit