Group of children

Employees and employers in Central Oregon face a problem that the pandemic made worse. Child care is a broken market.

Before the pandemic, registered child care centers and in-home providers had enough openings only for one in three children under the age of 5. Then the pandemic drove many child care facilities to shutdown. Others couldn’t keep as many children.

What has been impressive is the way people in Central Oregon responded even before the pandemic hit. There are many groups to credit, including Central Oregon chambers, Governor Brown’s Regional Solutions team, Better Together, The Early Learning Hub, NeighborImpact, Central Oregon Health Council, TRACES, OSU-Cascades, COCC and more. They created a Central Oregon child care accelerator position to coordinate the efforts to improve child care in the region. The effort now has a new website, centraloregonchildcare.com.

The child care market is broken for many reasons. Basically, supply is scarce and expensive. Child care requires good people willing to work for not great wages. The industry is highly regulated, understandably so. There are substantial costs for insurance. Space is needed too, and buildings and land get expensive quick in Central Oregon. As for demand, demand comes from young families who are usually at the beginning stages of their careers — meaning they have less money to spend on child care.

During World War II the federal government actually paid to operate child care centers across the country. The nation needed both parents to be able to work. That spending evaporated after the war. Some argue now that the federal government should get back to helping to fill the child care gap until children are old enough to go to school. Some businesses provide child care for their employees along with other benefits. But that’s tough to afford, even if the need is so high.

A new website in Central Oregon does not fix any of that. It does focus attention and resources on the problem. And if you want to solve anything, that’s a good place to start.

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