It’s no secret that a strong economy depends on a strong workforce. Companies like Entergy rely every day on employees who are talented, skilled and focused on providing the best service to our customers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation is facing a workforce crisis with a shortage in the number of skilled workers needed to fill current and future jobs. Further, many of our nation’s most talented and capable employees are forced to make difficult choices about their careers due to a lack of reliable, affordable and high-quality child care. In New Orleans, only 12 percent of at-risk children under age four have access to affordable high-quality child care.

A recent report, sponsored by Entergy, found that the lack of quality, affordable child care greatly impacts workforce participation and productivity of parents with young children. The research, conducted by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab and the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, found that among parents with children age four and under, child care issues resulted in more than 16 percent quitting their jobs, nearly 14 percent turning down a promotion and 18 percent going from full-time to part-time status. Just over 40 percent of the parents surveyed reported that they missed work regularly due to child care issues in the last three months.

Child care is not just a problem for our workers. The report found that child care issues cost Louisiana employers $816 million per year due to absences and turnover, and resulted in a loss of more than $1.1 billion for the state’s economy. 

As New Orleans approaches another local election, we have an opportunity to consider officials that will help us follow the lead of other cities — like San Antonio and Denver — that have prioritized the needs of working families by committing dollars to increase access to high-quality learning opportunities for our youngest students.

It would be money well-spent. The research is clear that public dollars invested in quality early childhood programs provide a greater return on investment than dollars invested at any other time of life — including K-12 and college. This is because 80 percent of brain development occurs between birth and age 3.

Our city is already equipped with individuals and organizations that possess the ability to improve early child care for our community. As a United Way of Southeast Louisiana board member, and past board chair, I am personally familiar with UWSELA’s investment in the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and its goal to improve education opportunities in the city.

A little support for our youngest learners and their families will reap benefits for decades. High-quality early care and education leads to higher student test scores, graduation rates and a better-prepared workforce while decreasing the need for special services and lowering criminal justice rates. High-quality early care and education prepares students for success, enables them to be productive in the workforce and supports a thriving local economy. Again, this is our opportunity to consider officials who are committed to investing in our youth. After all, today’s youth are our future.

Charles L. Rice Jr.

president, Entergy New Orleans

New Orleans