Early childhood care and education are essential to the health, development and success of San Diegans and the regional economy.

Not only does quality child care set our youngest residents up for success later in life, but it provides local businesses and working parents with more opportunities to grow – an important factor as we plan for the future of our regional economy.

But how are we doing as a region in San Diego County?

To better understand the need and the challenges that currently exist, The San Diego Foundation partnered with San Diego Workforce Partnership and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce to commission two new reports that outline the regional landscape surrounding early childhood care and the economy.

As both reports revealed, San Diego employers are at a unique point in their overall growth.

Business Leaders Say: Providing Benefits For Working Parents Is Good Business

According to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce report, local business leaders are rethinking how they can best support working mothers and fathers. That’s because 55% of employers surveyed for the report indicate that their employees have been unable to work at one time or another because of child care responsibilities. In addition, 35% of employers believe that providing additional benefits would be helpful to strengthen employee retention, talent acquisition and overall productivity.

Longer parental leave, on-site child care facilities, lactation rooms and more flexible work hours are all ways that San Diego employers are addressing the child care challenge to better support their employees.

Child Care: Demand Outpaces Supply

Both reports also reveal just how complex this topic is and why it requires the support of all leaders from an array of sectors.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership report outlines four key barriers to overcome in order for all San Diego children to be set up for success later in life.

The research shows that child care is hard to find for local parents because demand far outpaces the regional supply. According to the report, San Diego County has only 145,000 child care spots available—yet as many as 335,000 children are in need of support. What’s even more challenging is that 66% of local families live within what’s called a “child care desert,” a geographic area with fewer than three child care facilities for every 10 children under age six.

Quality, Cost, and Convenience

With options limited for many families, child care options can vary dramatically. Quality care is critical for a child’s development, but parents often settle for mediocre care when they can’t find or afford anything better. In other situations, it’s a deal breaker altogether.

As one Poway parent explained, “I know being a working mom is what is best for me, but given my struggle to find care that I truly trust and feel confident with, I wonder if it is the best thing for my daughter.”

She is not alone either. The San Diego workforce is missing out on strong, skilled talent because parents are forced to decide between a career and child care.

Convenience and timing is also a significant challenge that impacts the workforce. Many mothers and fathers must rearrange schedules daily and sacrifice work hours at the last minute, all to align with child care hours. That’s made even more difficult for employees in industries with unpredictable and irregular work schedules, such as first responders, hospitality and health care workers.

Lastly, cost is a constant barrier for a large segment of families in San Diego. The high price of child care coupled with the rising cost of housing, food and transportation has created an affordability chasm in the region. It’s estimated that a large percentage of San Diego families earn too much to qualify for subsidies, but not enough to afford child care expenses on their own.