Construction Workers in Oregon May Get Child Care Subsidies
To keep up with the Biden administration’s effort to construct more roads, bridges, internet, and semiconductor chips, state, and municipal governments are scrambling to hire more people. Nevertheless, such actions are being hampered by affordable childcare options. Oregon’s approach may serve as a template for other states and cities dealing with the same issue.
Center for American Progress senior fellow for workforce development Marina Zhavoronkova emphasized the importance of the child care topic. She said legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act would be useless without the workforce to build the necessary facilities.
In a March study, Zhavoronkova cited early figures showing that the construction sector had 413,000 vacancies in December. About 764,000 people were needed in manufacturing. Moreover, 22% of the construction and 26% of the industrial workforce are 55 or older and will soon be retiring, necessitating the recruitment of new employees.
Women make up just 4.2% of the workforce in construction occupations such as carpentry, bricklaying, operational engineering, and paving, making it imperative that the country address its childcare shortfall. In the next decade, the legislation will provide 800,000 additional employment opportunities.
“A really critical part of growing the workforce is that you need to recruit more members,” Zhavoronkova said. “And that includes recruiting more women who are more likely to be the primary caregivers for children in the home.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce research shows that 27% of the unemployed are not actively seeking employment because they care for family members. Both male and female parents struggle with finding adequate child care. Women, however, were more likely to report this issue (36% vs. 20%).
“It’s just like any job,” said Cye Fink, workforce management director for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Civil Rights. “If you have to pick up your child or they’re under school age or kindergarten, then you can’t really watch or provide for that child [while building new roads and bridges].”
Fink emphasized that this is especially true since their employment requires them to spend weeks away from their home and children. Nevertheless, an Oregon initiative launched in 2010 seeks to remedy this.
The Oregon State Legislature mandated a highway construction apprenticeship program in 2016 with funding of up to $2.1 million each biennium, or.5 percent of federal monies.
The office set aside a small sum for child care. According to Fink, the department would spend $340,027 on childcare services for 75 apprentices between July 2019 and December 2022 so that they do not have to pay more than 7% of their salary on childcare.
Childcare facilities are not required to receive funding. It may be distributed among relatives ready to care for a youngster. The state’s program also offers help for unexpected expenses like medical bills or automobile repairs.
The financial aid has been helpful. According to Fink, apprentices who got assistance in the previous two years were 10% to 20% more likely to finish their apprenticeships, depending on their trade. Women in highway construction apprenticeship programs are especially vulnerable.
Compared to white women who did not get incentives, around 45% of those who did finish their apprenticeships (because they did not apply for them). Half of the minority women who reached the funding completed their internships, but just 22% of those who did not.
According to Fink, Oregon will utilize $3 million from its infrastructure funding to increase the number of apprentices eligible for subsidies and the duration of those incentives. Zhavoronkova claims that more state transportation agencies haven’t joined because their primary concentration is infrastructure like roads and bridges.
“It’s a different muscle to flex for many states,” she said. “State departments of transportation—they’re not workforce agencies. They’re not childcare agencies. So it’s a big ask. It’s learning a different skill set. It’s partnering with different partners.”
Several government officials have also voiced concern that is diverting transportation funds to childcare wastes taxpayer money. The Biden administration has made Zhavoronkova “cautiously hopeful” that more states would prioritize providing child care for infrastructure employees.
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When the Commerce Department released its guidelines for applying for CHIPS and Science Act subsidies in February, the administration clarified that it intended to address the problem. The government has said applicants seeking more than $150,000,000 must ensure their employees have access to low-cost child care.
“This is a math problem,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at the time. “We need more people in the labor force. We have a lack of affordable child care, which is the single most significant factor keeping people, especially women, out of the labor force.”
In addition, Zhavoronkova said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce is demanding a workforce development plan from states that want to receive broadband funds under the bipartisan infrastructure act.
“I think that if there was any moment in time where the infrastructure workforce would meaningfully diversify is right now,” she said.
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