Jun 4, 2020

Vermont's crucial need for investment in child care

Growing up in Queens, our family escaped to Vermont each summer. In the mid-1980s, we returned for good, making a home in southern Vermont. I went to college at UVM, but made my way back to Bennington, joining my parents to start our company, Global-Z.

As my business and my own family grew, I became deeply committed to economic development in our region. With community partners, I've invested in many economic development projects — some more successful than others. But we approach each with the same goal: How can we ensure that Bennington County, Vermonters and our neighbors prosper? Child care emerges again and again as the key to ensuring that parents and children are healthy, happy, and economically secure.

The truth is, the child care system in Vermont was broken before the COVID-19 crisis. Over 50 percent of Vermont's children already lacked access to high-quality child care. As it stands now, children who can find and afford high-quality child care are the statistical outliers. That is both unjust and irrational. In my business, if a system is broken, we blame the process, not the person. We build a better system.

This week, I joined Let's Grow Kids and over 800 Vermont individuals, businesses, and statewide organizations to sign on to a policy statement calling for immediate and significant investments of federal CARES Act dollars to support the safe reopening of child care programs and to strengthen the industry long-term.

I believe investing in child care is the moral thing to do. Each Vermont child deserves the same opportunity to thrive and high-quality child care may be our most powerful equalizer. But I am also trained as a data scientist and a businessperson, and I see child care as the best possible return on investment for our community and the state. Broken systems are not just bad for people, they're bad for business. High-quality child care has an immediate economic impact on families and it significantly improves education, health, and criminal justice outcomes. In fact, it's one of the areas of state spending where we gain more than we invest.

Bennington deserves an investment in child care. Our region is struggling economically, and the effect this has on our kids is morally and economically tragic. For Vermont's children under 5, the poverty rate is 11.5 —er percent. This rate rises dramatically when you zero in on our county and downtown: In Bennington County the rate is 16 percent, in Bennington it is 31 percent and in downtown Bennington, it is a staggering 38.1 percent. This is not only a moral issue, the economic cost is also high when looking at the impacts on population health, education, productivity, and workforce participation. If you think it's expensive to fully fund birth-to-five care for our children, you're ignoring how expensive it is not to.

In a recent exchange with Jonathan Cooper from the Bennington County Regional Commission, he shared the data above and stated clearly: "Access to child care and a stable job continues to be the best one-two punch to lift children out of poverty." The state-level data shows "the remarkable impact of access to child care. Where there is a full time, year-round job, the poverty rate for all Vermont families with children drops from 12.4 percent to just 2.1 percent. And when a single mother can return to work full time, year-round, her poverty rate falls from 34.7 percent to just 9 percent." That is the future I want to work toward.

I signed on to support the emergent investment in child care, but I'm committed to the long-haul of fixing our child care system. If we take this investment seriously, we help families today and chart a new vision for Vermont.

Investing in child care makes quantitative financial sense, but there's also a qualitative story I believe it will tell: We could be the first state in the nation to get this right. And if we do, the children who need it most will see their future improve; businesses will gain a powerful recruitment tool; our own children will want to stay, or return, to live here. And those who grew up elsewhere, like I was, will decide that it's the best place to build their home and raise their family.

Dimitri Garder is CEO of Global-Z International, a market research company with headquarters in Bennington.

Read this commentary in Bennington Banner

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