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OC LEADER BOARD

A new report from First 5 Orange County makes it abundantly, woefully clear: We ignore the county’s escalating child care crisis at our collective peril.

Need convincing? The meticulously researched report concluded that Orange County’s economy takes a whopping $4.3 billion hit every year in lost productivity and wages due to the profound lack of affordable quality child care. Meanwhile, more than 67,000 jobs are lost as moms and dads are forced to make an agonizing choice between continuing to work or staying home with the kids.

The report delivered more sobering news: as a consequence of the child care crisis’ financial wallop to productivity and jobs, Orange County’s economy every year fails to capture $372 million in tax revenues. And Orange County employers suffer mightily as employees come in late, miss entire days or, far too often, abandon their jobs and careers entirely. The overwhelming majority of these employees, perhaps not surprisingly, are women—who more often shoulder the brunt of their families’ burdens when their child care situation goes south.

Titled “Child Care and its Impact on Orange County’s Economy,” the report follows First 5 Orange County’s initial report released last fall that examined the personal and financial toll the lack of affordable quality child care is wreaking on families. That report revealed the unforgiving landscape families face in their hunt for affordable quality child care. Currently, there are approximately 21 children age 2 and under for every licensed child care slot available—or only enough licensed slots for 5% of Orange County’s current population of infants and toddlers. Meanwhile, there are 1.5 preschool-age children, ages 3 to 4, for every available child care slot.

And when families are fortunate enough to find child care, they pay dearly for it. On average, 26% of their income goes to cover full-time care for two children. Ten percent is considered “affordable,” so it’s a strong illustration of just how out of whack the cost is for parents already struggling to make ends meet in Orange County.

The report was compiled from interviews and surveys involving more than 50 Orange County employers representing more than 71,000 employees. First 5 Orange County, led by CEO and President Kimberly Goll, undertook the in-depth research and reports to sound the alarm on the worsening crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic as many child care facilities and in-home providers were forced to close or drastically downscale last year. Many have since reopened or are in the process of doing so, but at reduced capacity—leaving families with even fewer precious options than before the pandemic struck.

While the crisis presents an urgent need for bold and decisive action, it also presents cause for optimism. Orange County is acclaimed throughout the nation and world due in large part to the highly talented, creative and take-charge people and businesses who proudly call it home.

First 5 Orange County can’t solve this crisis alone.

Indeed, the dual reports underscore an urgent need for a targeted, all-hands-on-deck, community-wide commitment that truly addresses the growing crisis once and for all. In order for this effort to be successful, all sectors of our community must get involved—employers, city and county leaders, business organizations, family advocacy groups, child care providers, schools and families.

When we in Orange County put our collective minds to a critical task, it gets done. Right now, more than ever, local businesses, employees and families need a healthy dose of that shared sense of purpose, especially as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

In the third and final phase of the initiative, First 5 Orange County officials will convene a broad cross-section of stakeholders to help formulate and present a series of policy recommendations to local, county and state officials and agencies.

Let’s together help First 5 succeed in these efforts and solve Orange County’s child care crisis for ourselves, our employees, our families and especially our children who are our future.

Editor’s Note: Lucy Dunn has been chief executive and president of Orange County Business Council for 16 years, championing local business and job-creation initiatives. She plans to retire at the end of this year; a successor has yet to be named.

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