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Child care shortages holding back North Carolina economy, business leaders say

Aaron Burden

North Carolina business leaders are calling for changes in child care to help stimulate the state’s economy and replenish the workforce, citing a new report that says child care is a crucial part of the overall workforce.

The report was produced by the nonpartisan Council for a Strong America. It finds that prior to the pandemic, 44% of North Carolinians lived in a child care desert. That’s where there are at least three children for every slot available for child care.

During an event detailing the report, Bank of America's North Carolina market president, Charles Bowman, said child care is a critical issue in the business community, contributing to the workforce shortage.

“It’s sort of a domino effect," Bowman said. "It keeps us all from getting back on our feet and driving this country forward in a competitive fashion into the future.”

The report found the cost for infant care in North Carolina averaged $9,254 a year. And there are 22,000 children in the state on the waitlist for child care subsidies.

The average salary for an early childhood teacher is $24,600, according to the report.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation President John Lumpkin says low wages for child care providers is fueling the staffing crisis and forcing child care centers to refuse care to parents in need.

“Child care centers are desperate for staff because people leave for higher pay,” Lumpkin said. "But they can’t generate the revenue needed to increase staff pay because families just can’t afford increased rates.”

The report calls for North Carolina lawmakers to increase the number of childcare workers by investing in the state’s TEACH scholarship program for degrees in early childhood education and the state WAGE$ program that links higher wages to increased training.

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Catherine Welch is Assistant News Director at WFAE. She has led newsrooms at KUNC in Greely, CO, Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence, RI and WHQR in Wilmington, NC.