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Child Care Crisis Increases Workforce Woes

Published Monday Mar 25, 2024

Author Sheryl Rich-Kern

Aislinn Robinson commutes an hour and a half to get to her job as a quality control scientist at W.S. Badger in Gilsum, which is only 25 minutes from her house in Lempster. Her first stop is in Keene where she hands over her infant son to an in-home day care. From there, she drives another 12 miles to deliver her 2- and 4-year-old kids to a nature-based preschool in Nelson. She then hightails another 15 miles to report to the office. In the evening, she does it all again in reverse order.

Robinson scrambled to find a more convenient option between Keene and Lempster. She reached out to countless day cares. They were all full with long wait lists. The endless search for something more reasonable sapped her energy. In the end, she cut down to a four-day work week; her husband stays home on Fridays so they only have to pay for day care three days a week.

Even so, the day care expense equals “our mortgage times three,” she says.

Robinson’s struggles with day care are not unusual. Much of the state lies in a child care desert, according to a map compiled from Child Care Aware of NH. The child care shortage that already existed in NH became more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, disproportionately affecting rural communities and working mothers. The Center for American Progress (CAP) and numerous other studies report that mothers unable to find reliable child care were more likely to leave their jobs, curb their careers or suffer pay cuts. Among 41 OCED (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations, the United States is the only country that does not mandate paid leave for new parents.

Patricia Green is a single mother of a 5-year-old in Newmarket. When her son’s day care abruptly shut down in 2021, she applied to 10 day cares, all of which charged nonrefundable registration fees to get on their waiting lists. She qualifies for a state subsidy known as the child care scholarship; however, her subsidy did not reimburse for the registration costs.

For two months, she cut her hours with the home care agency where she worked. She reached out to moms on Facebook groups to find babysitters.

“I had to have people I really didn’t know watch my son,” she says. “I don’t have the cash flow to just hire anybody. I felt like I had to lower my standards.”


Child Care Scholarship and Reduced Cost Share Eligibility

Annual Household Income Caps for Child Care Scholarship,
No Cost Share, and $5 Per Week Cost Share Eligibility,

Family Size

Less than 85% of State Median Income

No Cost Share
Less than or equal to 100% of Federal Poverty Guidelines

$5 Cost Share
Between 100% to 138%

of Federal
Poverty Guidelines

2 $72,193 $19,720 $27,214
3 $89,180 $24,860 $34,307
4 $106,167 $30,000 $41,400
5 $123,153 $35,140 $48,493
6 $140,140 $40,280 $55,586
7 $143,325 $45,420 $62,680
8 $146,510 $50,560 $69,773

Source: New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute; New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Child Development and Head Start Collaboration Child Care Scholarship Income Eligibility Levels (Updated July 1, 2023), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2023 Poverty Guidelines of 48 Contiguous States (Updated January 2022)


Eventually, her son landed at a day care in Barrington, but unfortunately, she found the staff inadequate and worried about his care. In 2022, she moved on to another center in Dover, where her son is thriving. “I felt he was safe and that allowed me to focus on my business,” she says.  In 2023, Green launched her own homemaker services business, in part to better manage her schedule.

The Cost Conundrum
Jessica Carson of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of NH says two main factors contribute to child care availability and affordability: families are paying too much and providers are earning too little.

In 2022, the average annual price for an infant in center-based child care in NH was $15,340, and $10,140 for family-based child care. The average annual price for both an infant and a 4-year-old in center-based care was $28,340. These figures are only averages. At Kinder Care in NH, for example, the annual full-time fee for an infant is $26,000; for a toddler, $24,440.

Day care costs are “such a big chunk of the paycheck that for some families it really begins to feel not worth it, and they come up with alternate arrangements,” says Carson.

Single parents take the biggest hit. A single mom can expect to spend just over a third of her income for one infant; a single dad, slightly more than a fifth, according to data compiled by the NH Fiscal Policy Institute.

For some parents, the barriers to access child care are too high, and they end up leaving the workforce. That is a big problem for employers in NH, who continue to be plagued with a workforce shortage. Between November 2022 and October 2023, an average of 16,000 Granite Staters each month were not working at all because they were caring for children, according to data compiled by the NH Fiscal Policy Institute (NHFPI). This is likely an undercount of the impact, says NHFPI Research Director Phil Sletten, because the survey doesn’t account for parents working fewer hours to accommodate what little child care they can find.

In that same time frame, NH reported 17,300 people actively looking for work. If those 16,000 caring for a child had been working, says Nicole Heller, senior policy analyst with NHFPI, “that would have nearly doubled the number of people unemployed and looking for work that businesses could have hired.”

Heller also refers to a Bipartisan Policy Center report that demonstrates for every  unmet child care spot in 2021, NH’s economy may lose between $44,110 and $66,816 over the next decade in earnings, productivity, and revenue.

Aislinn Robinson, the mother of three children under age 4, is about to leave the workforce. She is leveraging her degree in microbiology and a master’s in public health to homeschool her kids. She leaves her position at Badger in June. “I am passionate about homeschooling, but it’s also because the cost of day care is prohibitive,” she says.

Staffing Challenges
In 2021, NH accredited 756 licensed providers with 45,660 child care spots, which still left a shortfall in child care of around 8,300 slots statewide, based on the number of families in the workforce with children under the age of 6. The following year, that list of providers shrunk to 717 with space for 44,515 children. Due to a 26% staffing vacancy rate, the number of unserved children is likely higher.

Jackie Cowell directs Early Learning NH, a nonprofit that supports child care programs, Head Start, preschool and afterschool initiatives. She says a child care center’s staff comprises at least 80% of the facility’s operating expenses. In an effort not to raise tuition, many owners can only afford to pay low wages to their employees. They compete for staff against employers like Walmart, Target and Amazon where the starting salary is between $18 and $20 per hour. In 2022, NH child care providers, who influence the trajectory of a child’s early social and emotional development, earned a median hourly wage of $13.73.

“The teachers are doing tremendous work,” says Cowell, “but they just can’t afford to stay there. They love the work, they’re good at it, but the job doesn’t make ends meet.”

In general, larger centers survived the pandemic better than the smaller ones, says Carson of UNH. In contrast, between 2017 and 2021, the supply of smaller, home-based providers plummeted 22.1%.

When smaller providers can’t afford to operate, the impact is substantial for families who live in remote areas, she says. Families have fewer choices and encounter longer distances between those choices.

NH’s investments in Child Care
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the state has invested more than $113 million in federal relief dollars into the child care system, with the majority of funds sent directly to child care providers.

While much of those federal monies have already been spent, there is good news for the coming fiscal year. Last fall, the governor approved a one-time allocation of $15 million to distribute to child care employers for professional development, sign-on incentives, tuition assistance, student loan repayment and other approved purposes.

These funds are a one-off distribution, Cowell says, which is why advocates are hoping to find a more permanent revenue stream to help boost child care earnings and match the important work they do. “In the meantime, let’s not have the burden of raising the needed salaries of the child care folks only on the backs of the families,” says Cowell. “They can’t do it anymore.”

Child care scholarships are available, but until recently, only for those families of three making at or below $54,692 a year.

As of the end of January 2024, NH is raising the threshold for eligibility. A family of two will qualify for a child care scholarship if they make less than $72,193, or $89,180 for a family of three, based on income thresholds as of July 2023. This raises the family income eligibility cap to 85% of the state median income. A working family pays no more than 7% of their gross family income on child care, while previously they may have contributed up to 17%. Families can sign up at

Some parents will spend thousands of dollars less per year than they’re paying now. For example, for families earning $65,000, two parents with an infant without state assistance paid $15,340 for child care annually, but with enhanced state scholarship program, they will pay $4,550 annually (no more than 7% of gross annual income). A single parent with an infant and toddler without state assistance paid $28,340 annually for child care, which is 44% of gross annual income. With the enhanced state scholarship program, that parent will pay an annual $4,550 (again, no more than 7% of gross annual income).

“That’s going to capture a lot of families,” says Cowell, “although it’s not going to capture all the families that need it. We know that even after that, you still need some support.”

These investments will positively impact the workforce. “There’s also a return of investment in child development,” says Heller.

Data from the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center 2023 shows a median ROI of around $4.20 for every dollar invested in state and district pre-K programs in low income families. The children were also more likely to finish high school and earn higher salaries and less likely to rely on social safety net programs. They also experienced lower health care costs in adulthood.

A Pilot Project in the Monadnock Region
Rural areas have fewer commercial real estate options to host child care centers, but teachers, police officers and firefighters can’t keep their towns running without a place to ensure their children’s well-being.

To grow the supply of family-based child care providers, the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) launched the “Bringing It Home” project. With financial support from a Community Development Finance Authority tax credit grant, the project helps family-based providers take courses to achieve accreditation, delivers training on how to run a business and extends financial assistance of up to $30,000 for home renovations.


Maximum Cost Share for Familes Eligible for Child Care Scholarships

Maximum Cost Share for Familes with Household Incomes between 138% of Federal Poverty Guidelines and 85% of the State Median Income that Are Ineligible for Reduce Cost Shares

Family Size

7% of Household Income

2 $5,054
3 $6,243
4 $7,432
5 $8,621
6 $9,810
7 $10,033
8 $10,256

Source: NH Fiscal Policy Institute, NH Dept. of Health and Human Services Bureau of Child Development and Head Start Collaboration Child Care Scholarship Income Eligibility Levels (Updated July 21, 2023)



“If we’re not seeking innovative partnerships and solutions to help address the top two issues in the economy, then we’re missing the mark,” says Cody Morrison, executive director of MEDC.

The NH Charitable Foundation stepped in to hire Alexa Plewa as coach and coordinator for the project. Plewa also runs the Cheshire Children’s Museum and was a family-based provider for many years.

Plewa says there’s a stigma about family-based providers she wants to change, with some people perceiving them as uneducated babysitters. The participants in her program, the first family-base childcare collaborative in the state, will have a minimum of an associate degree in early childhood education. “We’re hoping this model can be implemented statewide,” she adds.

All providers will be licensed through the state and can choose one of three pathways towards credentialing, including an associates in early childhood education, a child development associate, and the NH early childhood professional development system run by NH Dept of Health and Human Services. Among the six current participants all have experience working in childcare and two have master’s degrees in early childhood education.

Participants will also have a chance to meet and share funding and training opportunities through a monthly collaborative session. “It’s a very isolating industry,” she says, with few chances to meet other professionals. Connecting with others will have a direct impact on quality, Plewa adds.

The Bringing It Home project expects to have 10 family-based child care providers in place by the end of 2025.

Fixing a Broken Model
Christina D’Allesandro directs Early Childhood and Family Supports for the NH Charitable Foundation (NHCF). She says variations of the Bringing It Home model exist elsewhere in the state. In Nashua, NHCF is helping to identify Spanish language speakers who want to become licensed child care providers.

In Lebanon, aspiring teachers connect with mentors and observe classroom activities at the Children’s Learning Center of the Upper Valley as they complete their training to achieve their credentials.

In Lancaster and Colebrook, NHCF is working with child care centers to increase the number of parents applying for tuition aid, thereby helping the centers reinvest dollars toward workforce wages. “Centers need to increase tuition to reflect increasing costs of child care and we need to ensure these costs are not passed on to families,” she says. “This requires that all eligible families receive childcare scholarships.”

She says that child care is “experiencing a moment” as a result of the pandemic. Companies can’t function if their employees with young kids can’t find child care.

“This is a fundamentally broken model. Fixing [it] is in the best interest of children and families,” she says. “I’m hopeful we can get there.” 


Sidebar 1: Little Antlers Learning Center

Sidebar 2: Parents Bring Their Babies to Work at W.S. Badger

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