Lack of childcare impedes women hoping to re-enter workforce

Women hoping to re-enter the workforce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic have had difficulty finding affordable, reliable health care, keeping them at home, advocates note.


State News

February 3, 2022 - 10:00 AM

Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United WE, says during a virtual news conference that a new task force would use results from the survey and upcoming town halls across the state to provide leadership and recommendations for how to address issues relating to women in the workforce. Photo by Screen grab via Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — New research from a women’s economic and civic advancement group and the University of Kansas draws connections between rising unemployment among women, difficulty accessing child care and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Status of Women in Kansas report released Wednesday found the impacts of COVID-19 are disproportionately affecting women. Caregiving responsibilities, the closure of in-person schools and working from home have had a significant impact on women’s employment, report findings indicate.

For example, in the quarter before COVID-19, women accounted for 32% of unemployment claims, but after March 2020, women averaged 46% of the claims. The unemployment rate for women peaked at just over 16% in April 2020.

Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of United WE, said research from the McKinsey Global Institute showed increased women’s participation can lead to as much as a 10% to 15% increase in economic activity in the state.

“We have a long, 30-year history of investing in evidence-based research and data to drive nonpartisan policy solutions to reduce barriers for women and their families,” Doyle said. “When we reduce these barriers, it helps everyone, including our state’s economy, to flourish.”

The study follows up on a similar report from 2016 aimed at centering issues women in Kansas are facing. In response to the 2022 report, a women’s economic development task force is set to dive into issues of women’s participation in the workforce.

The Kansas Women’s Economic Development task force will conduct town halls across the state to hear firsthand from women about experiences and challenges before and after the onset of the pandemic. Panel work and town hall results will feed into a report with results, key findings and potential recommendations for policymakers and advocates to tackle.

“We are working right now to put (the task force) together and really have varied representation by geography and industry of women … to create awareness of the town halls to encourage women to participate and engage in the conversation,” Doyle said.

One major area in need of extra attention is a lack of access to affordable child care, which Donna Ginther, director of the Institute for Policy and Social Research at KU, said pushed many women out of the labor force during the pandemic. Now, she said, it is holding many women back from re-entering the workforce.

“Infant care is less affordable in Kansas than in other states,” Ginther said. “The average annual cost of infant care is about $11,000 a year, which is close to 30% of the median woman’s income in the state. So, if a woman works, and she wants to put her child in high-quality infant care, it’s going to be a third of her paycheck, and that’s too high.”

Ginther said high-quality child care costs are comparable to college tuition for in-state KU students. She noted that 300 licensed child care providers closed in 2020 in Kansas, making cost and accessibility growing issues.

The report also indicated that for every dollar earned by a man in Kansas, women made only 78 cents in 2020. This is less than the national average of $0.82 per dollar.

“Factual data is the first step in telling an accurate story of the lives of Kansas women,” Ginther said. “This research validates the importance of removing barriers and advocating for policies that support women, ultimately making families and communities healthier and the economy stronger.”