Dawn Oliver Wiand, Execuitve Director, Iowa Women’s Foundation
Like most other places in the United States, Iowa’s data about the well-being of women and girls presents two contradictory stories:
Some women are thriving. More women are entering the labor force, attending and graduating from college, and enlisting in the military. And overall, women’s life expectancy has increased. But in contrast, even more women and girls face barriers to achievement and prosperity. Research shows us that 70% of Iowa’s female headed households are struggling for economic security, with 40% living in poverty and another 30% not earning enough to support their basic living expenses.
What we learned by listening.
To understand why women and girls are struggling and what barriers impact their success, the Iowa Women’s Foundation (IWF) launched a state tour in 2015 called “SHE MATTERS: We Listen and Iowa Wins.” We held focus groups in 18 communities across Iowa, where we learned there are six key barriers to women’s economic self-sufficiency: employment, child care, housing, education/training, transportation and mentors—the most significant being child care.
The data reinforces this need within the state of Iowa, especially throughout our rural communities:
- There are 529,076 children ages 0-12 in the state of Iowa but only 167,399 child care spaces available, leaving a shortfall of 361,677 spaces.
- On average, 1 in 2 children go without access to affordable, quality child care.
- Iowa has lost 40% of its child care businesses over the past five years.
Iowa’s workforce shortage and child care crisis are interrelated.
Three-quarters of Iowa families with children under the age of six have all available parents working outside of the home, yet almost a quarter of Iowans live in an area undersupplied with licensed or registered child care options. The results paint a clear picture of how workforce development is hindered by a lack of child care: of these families, 65% of parents are late to work or leave early because of child care issues. Employees also miss an average of nearly two weeks of work per year due to the same problems.
Collaboration is key.
To address the child care crisis, IWF and partner organizations, many of whom were community foundations, started the Building Community Child Care Solutions Collaborative. Through our shared work, 22 communities across Iowa are now exploring innovative ways to exchange ideas among business and community leaders, employees and organizations to promote child care investments that support children’s healthy development and a competitive business environment—both for the short and long term.
So far, communities involved in the effort include Ames, Carroll/Glidden, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Decorah, Dubuque, Fairfield, Fort Dodge, Grinnell, Ida County, IKM-Manning, Iowa Falls, Jefferson, Lee County, Lone Tree, Marshalltown, Mason City, Ottumwa, Red Oak, Sioux City, Storm Lake and Waterloo.
Together, we are investing in community-led solutions to address the child care and workforce shortages. We are increasing the availability of quality child care. We are growing Iowa’s workforce. And we are strengthening our communities because we are stronger together!
To learn more about this topic, you can review the ICoF Childcare Funder Webinar that was hosted last month. Click here to access the webinar recording.