- First Five Nebraska is sparking the early childhood conversation among business leaders through research, policy change and strategic engagement.
- First Five Nebraska’s study, “The Bottom Line,” shows gaps in child care costs Nebraska nearly $1.4 billion annually in lost family income, business productivity and state revenues.
Quality early childhood education and care can help solve a two-generation workforce challenge. It empowers parents to be productive in their careers, while ensuring our youngest children develop the cognitive and social skills they will need to thrive as productive adults. Child care is especially critical as we rebuild and strengthen our economy from the devastation of COVID-19. First Five Nebraska (FFN), a non-partisan early childhood organization, is working to improve quality early childhood infrastructure in Nebraska through research, policy and public-private sector engagement.
Before the pandemic, about 75 percent of Nebraska children under the age of five had all available parents in the workforce. Despite the need for child care, 91 percent of Nebraska counties did not have enough programs to meet demand. Eleven counties did not have a single licensed provider. The pandemic forced temporary or permanent closures of many child care businesses, and its full impact remains to be seen.
Researching the Financial Fallout
A lack of access to early childhood programs directly impacts Nebraska’s workforce and economic growth. Earlier this year, FFN partnered with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Bureau of Business Research to calculate the extent of those economic impacts. The result was the creation of “The Bottom Line,” a research study to determine the pre-COVID economic fallout of child care gaps in Nebraska. The study found:
- An estimated $745 million in direct, annual losses due to reduced household income, employer profits and state tax revenues;
- Combined direct and multiplied losses costing Nebraskans nearly $1.4 billion annually;
- $639 million in lost family income;
- $731 million in reduced business productivity;
- 3,337 fewer jobs; and
- $26 million in decreased tax revenues.
Galvanizing Business Support
Addressing these challenges will require collaborations involving business, industry and other private sector leaders and resources. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is leading national efforts to educate and engage business leaders on early childhood education, FFN has shaped the conversation in Nebraska for nearly a decade, beginning with the creation of the Nebraska Early Child Business Roundtable in 2011.
FFN regularly presents on early childhood topics to policymakers, civic groups, business leaders, employers, child care providers and other stakeholders. In October 2020, we partnered with Nobel laureate economist Dr. James Heckman, of the University of Chicago to co-host “The Dual Return on Investing in Quality Early Childhood Programs.” Geared largely toward business and economic development leaders, the webinar highlighted how strategic investments in child care bolster social and economic growth for individuals, families and society.
FFN’s business engagement efforts have led to strong ties with the statewide Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which identified early care and learning as a key strategy for economic growth, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. FFN also collaborated with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce on the production of an online childcare toolkit for businesses that went live in early fall. Similarly, FFN contributed a new section on early education for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s workforce attraction website, “The Good Life is Calling.”
In July of this year, First Five Nebraska launched “My Nebraska Story,” a public awareness campaign to encourage employers, economic developers, policymakers and others to take a more active role in developing local early childhood infrastructure. The campaign offers a library of videos and social media assets, as well as downloadable resource guides to advance the statewide conversation about strengthening workforce and economic development through quality child care.
Strategic Early Childhood Policymaking
Our policy team works closely with state agencies and legislators to author and advance policies that strengthen Nebraska’s early childhood programs and workforce. In 2020, FFN supported financial incentives for employer-sponsored child care programs in the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, a business tax incentive program to encourage business investment and promote high-wage job growth. FFN also worked closely with legislators to pass a bill to expand access to the Nebraska School Readiness Tax Credit, which provides financial incentives to help providers offer high-quality early care and learning services. In the upcoming legislative session, FFN will pursue state-level policies to encourage business investment in child care.
Resources and Support during COVID-19
When COVID-19 exposed the fragility of our child care infrastructure, FFN responded by strengthening our efforts to engage and educate policymakers at the state and federal levels. FFN outlined policy recommendations for state and federal government officials to support early childhood programs during the pandemic and provided guidance to state of Nebraska administrators around child care subsidies and program guidelines. Our organization also began publishing daily briefings for early childhood professionals and allied advocates on directed health measures, government relief programs and local grants to help child care programs stay operational. In fall 2020, FFN provided key testimony to a Nebraska Legislature committee studying the fiscal and economic impact of the pandemic on the early childhood landscape.
This series is relevant to the business community, early childhood system leaders, child care professionals and families. We hope that the business practice ideas and examples shared in this series encourages partnerships to ensure a robust child care system that works for everyone.
About First Five Nebraska
First Five Nebraska helps shape the public conversation about early childhood to give more Nebraska children a great start and productive future. The statewide organization works alongside elected officials, business and industry leaders, educators and community stakeholders to make Nebraska an ideal place to raise a family, advance a career, grow a business and build stronger, more prosperous communities. Learn more at FirstFiveNebraska.org.
Julia Barfield, MPH, MSW, is the senior manager of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce. Barfield leads the Chamber Foundation's early childhood education portfolio, which includes educating and engaging the businesses community to invest in young children and their families. Barfield received her B.A. from Westmont College in Anthropology and Hispanic Studies and has dual master’s in Social Work and Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in Washington, D.C.