Parents across Johnson County were mentioned in a new report detailing the difficulty of finding affordable, high-quality childcare. The recently released article, “Workforce of Today and Tomorrow: The Economics of Tennessee’s Child Care Crisis,” was conducted by Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE), Zogby Analytics, and economist Clive Belfield.

The findings reported that affordable childcare is a major issue for many Northeast Tennessee families. And for a good reason.

While the Covid pandemic can be blamed for a host of issues experienced by residents of Johnson County, the difficulty in finding affordable quality childcare predates the virus. For hardworking parents, a daily concern is how to care for their children while working outside the home.

“There are not enough quality daycare centers in Johnson County because there are not a lot of people willing to work in childcare," said Elizabeth Sexton, former owner of just one of two certified daycare centers in Johnson County. I

Sexton emphasized that working at a children's daycare is an "extremely challenging job, and we had a lot of turn-around with employees," which she said led to the difficult decisions to increase our rates so we could pay our employees more and try to retain the staff.

"This was hard on the parents, and we felt awful," Sexton said. "It worked, however, for some time. We reached out to colleges trying to find people in childcare programs. We still didn’t have much luck because the interest was still so low, and there weren’t students getting ready to graduate who would be willing to drive to Mountain City.” 

Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter agreed that the problem is real. “Affordable childcare is a challenge for working parents," Potter said.

The problem has reportedly grown exponentially worse while the country struggles to fill employment openings. Potter added, “Across the US and in small rural areas, like Johnson County, it is even more so now.” 

That the post-pandemic rising cost of inflation has made the economic situation in many households difficult has been well-established. Although inflation hits everyone’s pocketbooks, some have added challenges that make the rising cost of day-to-day life even more difficult.

 According to Tennessee’s Childcare Crisis study, “one-third of Tennessee children under 6 live in families with incomes less than $40,000.” The study went on to detail that the average annual cost of childcare for infants and toddlers is $11,068.

The adverse economic impact of inadequate childcare on Tennessee parents, businesses, and taxpayers, according to the study, is $2.6 billion annually in lost earnings and revenue. In Northeast Tennessee alone (Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties), the economic impact is $63.2 million per year.

Sadly, Northeast Tennessee parents who encounter childcare problems are hit hardest – losing an estimated $40.5 million in earnings each year.

Miles Burdine, president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and TQEE board chair, put things in perspective when he stated, “High-quality childcare, which enables adults to work while laying an important foundation for children’s success in school and beyond, is a powerful strategy for growing Tennessee’s workforce of today and tomorrow.”

Burdine concluded, “Many of the businesses we work with have experienced firsthand the problems.”

In hopes of a solution or at least an effort to ease the pain, Potter said, “Our office is in constant conversations with the State to search for additional funding opportunities and resources to increase access to childcare.”

Only time will tell if the County’s approach yields some improvement and ultimate success. For now, however, parents and officials have much to consider and work to bring the effort to fruition.

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