The biggest issue causing the workforce shortage is something that President Joe Biden wants to fix but which South Dakota’s Republican leaders have resisted—more affordable child care:
“The lack of reliable, affordable daycare is the number one issue that is affecting our workforce crunch right now,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said.
In Sioux Falls alone, about 2,000 children of working parents do not have child-care spots available to them, and an estimated 4,000 parents in the city are not in the workforce but could be if they had day care available, according to a recent report by the Sioux Falls Child Care Collaborative.
…“This is our most important asset, this is our kids we’re taking about,” TenHaken said. “What’s that worth to a society to make sure we’re investing in ensuring these kids get the absolutely top-shelf care when not under their parents’ supervision? It says a lot about us as a society in how you invest in your kids and your youth, and it kind of tells you where your priorities are as a community and as a state” [Bart Pfankuch, “Child Care Crisis in S.D. Hurting Families, Employers and State Economy,” South Dakota News Watch, 2021.12.15].
Paul’s friends John Thune and Kristi Noem resisted President Biden’s efforts to include child care in his investments in vital national infrastructure, saying infrastructure dollars should only be used for their narrow, traditional conception of infrastructure. But now Noem is willing repurpose federal coronavirus relief funds to do things well outside any definition of pandemic relief, like spending $100 million to build the daycare centers TenHaken says we need:
Through the use of federal funds, the Department of Social Services will use $100 million to provide grants for startup and one-time costs for new daycare centers. This will allow high-quality child care facilities to open and expand around the state. And it will help existing registered facilities stay open.
We need to study the hurdles facing child care centers. We will provide resources to employers who want to open child care facilities for their employees. And we will fund scholarships to train skilled child care workers.
I know parents want the best for their children. But the answer isn’t government bureaucrats taking care of their kids. Let’s strengthen our existing daycare centers, help new providers enter the business, and put more talented child care professionals into the field [Gov. Kristi Noem, budget address, 2021.12.07].
Of course, as is the case with another hindrance to worker availability, affordable housing, the things South Dakota’s economy needs will only become more affordable if South Dakota pays better wages, and Noem’s one-time expenditure of federal money does nothing to ensure ongoing livable wages for either daycare providers or the parents whose need to work four jobs to afford groceries and health insurance requires them to put their kids in child care. But a comprehensive solution would require vision and courage, neither of which our Governor has. She can only see as far as her next bailout from the federal government.