Federal Reserve targets childcare to boost employment and promote financial stability

  • President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Susan Collins, listens to women talk about their experiences with child care. Meghan Smith / Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

  • Amanda Morehouse attended a roundtable discussion on childcare in New Hampshire with her two kids, Walter, almost 1, and Clara, 3. Courtesy

  • Amanda Morehouse attended a roundtable discussion on childcare in New Hampshire with her two kids, Walter, almost 1, and Clara, 3.

Monitor staff
Published: 5/24/2023 4:27:52 PM

Baby Walter Morehouse cooed and babbled with a smashed banana smeared across his cheeks while members of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston took notes.

“It takes a special person to work in childcare,” said Kitty LaRochelle, director at The Growing Years Early Childhood Center in Manchester, where the round table discussion was held. This specific room, with bright blue walls and abandoned alphabet blocks, is currently unused at Growing Years because they can’t find the workers to staff it even as families are clamoring for spots.

That issue is part of what brought the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Susan M. Collins to Manchester.

“I suspect that addressing a childcare national challenge, which I see as a critical national challenge, will take a wide range of initiatives and it’ll take us working together,” said Collins.

New Hampshire is facing a looming childcare crisis — employees with low pay have few incentives to remain in the industry, while many families struggle to afford the services. In New Hampshire, childcare workers are often better off taking minimum-wage jobs with more benefits. Neighboring New England states, including Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, pay thousands more on average to their workers.

The issue of childcare directly pertains to the Fed’s dual mandate: maximize employment and promote financial stability. Not only would more childcare facilities create jobs, but they would send families who stay home to watch their kids back to work. Collins came to New Hampshire to help the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston work toward this mission and heard from “people who engage in the economy in different ways.”

Collins told the table of 16 women, all there to discuss the childcare issues facing New Hampshire, that she, too, is a mother. “I remember just how challenging it was and it has, if anything, gotten worse.” After her opening remarks, Collins sat back and listened.

Members represented groups like MomsRising, a grassroots organization working toward economic stability for mothers and families in America and New Futures, which supports and advocates for policies related to public health and early childhood development. There were also mothers from the community like Amanda Morehouse, who brought her children along with her.

Morehouse sat on the ground next to the table as she spoke, breastfeeding Walter while her 3-year-old daughter, Clara, stacked blocks on the floor. Clara will start kindergarten in September for two and a half hours a day, four days a week. “As a public school teacher, do I just leave work at 11 in the middle of a class to go get my kid and then stay home?” said Morehouse.

In real-time, Morehouse could not access childcare. “I’m used to wrangling them all day,” she said. She had two kids at the meeting and another 10-year-old named Olivia.

Meanwhile, women brought up long wait lists at facilities, unsustainable commutes and unaffordable rates.

Mackenzie Nicholson from MomsRising told a story of a woman she worked with who started looking for childcare three months before she was even pregnant. Now, her child is one year old and is still without childcare.

Nancy Glynn discussed a single mom recovering from substance misuse. Her son’s childcare facility closed down, and this mother is now in a “deep hole financially.”

Even those who can afford the steep costs are struggling to access the high-quality supervision they want for their children.

“No matter how much money I can put on the table, there are no spots,” Airole Warden of the Coös Coalition for Young Children and Families recalled a mother explaining. The phrase “economy of choice” was used frequently— an allusion to the notion that baseline access is not enough, and parents should be able to decide what works best for their kids.

Viola Katusiime, who works for the Granite State Organizing Project and was born and raised in Uganda, spoke from the perspective of an immigrant. She discussed the aspect of trust in childcare, saying she preferred neighbors and friends watching over her kids compared to an unknown person she has to pay.

The conversation shifted from existing issues toward creative ways to solve them. The women exchanged ideas — better pre-K and kindergarten, compensation for people who are staying home to take care of children, and awareness for the programs that already exist in New Hampshire. We should “see childcare as not a mom’s problem, but as a workforce… and really essential to every single family within our state,” said Rebecca Woitkowski of New Futures.

Throughout the meeting, baby Walter murmured and Clara played, noises that lightened the discussion of legislative and structural challenges.

At one point, Nancy Glynn came over to 3-year-old Clara with a backpack full of toys and goodies. She pulled out three rocks and a bag of rainbow Goldfish and squatted next to the girl. After a few minutes of entertaining Clara, Nancy rested a comforting hand on Morehouse’s shoulder and returned to her seat.


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