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Alaskans need affordable, accessible child care

Lesil McGuire
OPINION: By increasing access and making childcare more affordable, we can relieve some of the heavy economic burden that women in Alaska bear. wikicommons

The cost of an infant in childcare for one year now averages the same as one year of college tuition. With many families and single parents facing enormous economic challenges, the high cost and limited access of childcare can often be the straw that breaks the mother’s back. I believe access to affordable childcare should be considered essential to all Alaskan families.

This past October, I hosted the first of what will be an annual Alaska Women’s Summit with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, first lady Sandy Parnell and the president of BP Alaska, Janet Weiss. The purpose of the summit was to help inspire solutions to the large and widespread issues facing women in Alaska. Women from across the state attended and included many of Alaska’s most influential female leaders. When we looked for root issues, issues that snowballed into other issues, access to affordable childcare was one of the biggest and it has become one of my top priorities.

This session I will introduce legislation that will help with childcare costs in two ways. First, it will offer a tax credit incentive to employers who offer child care assistance to their employees. Twenty  states currently have similar legislation and the benefits to both employee and employer have been a proven success. The second portion will provide loan options for the renovations of existing child care facilities or the building of a new facility in an existing business property. There is substantial research supporting the notion that employees are more productive, miss fewer days of work per year, and have longer retention rates when provided with an on-site childcare facility.

Affordable childcare is a key component in providing Alaskans with the quality of life they deserve, but it’s one small piece of a much larger puzzle. Part of the inspiration to hold the Alaska Women’s Summit was a report I commissioned on the status of women in Alaska. The report revealed women earn less than men, their incarceration rates have increased over the past decade, and their suicide rate is twice the national average. The report included data that Alaska rates of domestic violence and sexual assault are over twice the national rate. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called the report “a call to action.”

By increasing access and making childcare more affordable, we can relieve some of the heavy economic burden that Alaska women bear. Single women with children make up the smallest population of Alaska homeowners and one of the largest populations in our homeless shelters. According to the recent publication of this year's Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the country are women. And despite gains that women have made in the workplace, the median earnings of women working full time are only 77 percent of what the median earnings are for men in similar roles. According to the report I commissioned, that gap is even larger in Alaska, with women making 67 percent of the wages paid to men within similar professions. Providing childcare will help women and families by providing options to seek better employment opportunities and continuing education. I have deep respect for parents who stay home with their children. It’s admirable and one of the hardest jobs there is. I only wish to create options for families that are struggling to make it and must work to put food on the table and a roof overhead.

This is only the beginning of an answer. These are issues that require a broad response from all of us. I encourage each of you to look at your community and your workplace and find ways in which we can all work together to support Alaska women and Alaska families.

Lesil McGuire, is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. She has represented parts of Anchorage in the Alaska Legislature since 2001, and currently sits in the state Senate.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.