More than 16 percent of Louisiana parents asked about their child care arrangements reported quitting their jobs because of problems finding care for their young children, while 18.5 percent of parents scaled back from working full-time to part-time at one point, according a survey presented Monday that was billed as the first-of-its-kind.

While most research about child care has focused on the benefits to children, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children Executive Director Melanie Bronfin said she wanted to track how the availability of child care affects working parents and their employers. She explained the study Monday to the Baton Rouge Press Club, along with representatives from LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, Entergy and Loyola University New Orleans.

"It's very clear working parents are struggling," Bronfin said.

The findings in the new study, called "Losing Ground: How Childcare Impacts Louisiana's Workforce Productivity and the State Economy," include:

  • Parents quitting their jobs and missing work because of insufficient child care causes Louisiana's economy to lose $1.1 billion annually. This forces the state to miss out on $84 million annually in tax revenue.
  • Women and single parents are more likely to be affected by the struggle to balance work with the high costs of child care. While 14.6 percent of women said they have quit their jobs because of child care problems, just 1.5 percent of men did. And while 11.1 percent of surveyed single parents reported quiting their jobs for child care reasons, 5 percent of married parents did.
  • Half of respondent households with young children rely on family members to take care of their kids. Families in rural parishes were more likely to lean on family to take care of their kids, while families in urban parishes more often used child care centers and pre-K programs.
  • More than 40 percent of parents missed work regularly over the last three months due to child care issues, while more than 42 percent reported leaving work early regularly during that time frame because of their kids.

The LSU Public Policy Research Lab surveyed 257 respondents over the phone to gather their data between October 2016 and February 2017. An economist then helped them translate the survey results into an economic impact calculation.

"Economically speaking, these are large impacts," said Belinda Davis, associate director of the LSU public policy research lab.

To find families with young children, the lab took listed samples of consumer and voter files of state residents that included demographic data like the age of children in the household. They used that information to target likely members of the population they needed to survey. The questions included a screening question to identify people with pre-kindergarten aged children.  

One question was focused on whether the floods of August 2016, which struck a wide swath of parishes in south Louisiana, affected respondents' child care. Just under 14 percent of respondents said the floods affected their kids' child care, Davis said.

The same struggles were evident during Hurricane Katrina, said Patty Riddlebarger, the director of social responsibility for Entergy. Most child care centers in New Orleans flooded after Katrina hit in 2005, as child care centers are required to be on ground floors, she said.

While much focus was placed on restoring schools, child care centers took a longer time to recover, she said. And when Entergy tried to convince New Orleans-based employees to return to work, some could not return because they could not find places in New Orleans to put their children while they were at work.

By the time a child reaches age four, more options become available to them, Bronfin said. She estimated that 87 percent of low-income four year olds are enrolled in publicly funded PreK programs.

"The challenge is the minute you get below age 4, there's just about nothing," Bronfin said.

And parents of kids who are not low-income — who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch — might also struggle to find child care they can afford. Bronfin said the average cost of child care statewide is $5,600 per year, and that figure only represents average child care, not high quality care.

The state has also cut its child care assistance program by nearly 70 percent since 2008, Bronfin said. She wants legislators to fully fund the program with 3,000 slots and to preserve, if not expand, Louisiana School Readiness tax credits.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​