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Report: Child care is one of the biggest barriers to workforce reentry for Maine women

Story time at Lots of Tots in Princeton in 2019.
Nick Woodward
Maine Public file
Story time at Lots of Tots in Princeton in 2019.

Affordable child care remains one of the biggest barriers for women in Maine who are trying to return to the workforce two years into the pandemic.

It's one of the findings from Maine's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. The commission's latest reportpoints to 2021 data from child care centers in the state. Fifty eight percent say they're understaffed, and 43% had waiting lists.

(For more on Maine's child care system, read Out Of Reach: Maine's Child Care Affordability Problem)

Commission Chair Kate Elmes says many women who would have worked in the care economy are struggling to find an affordable place for their own children.

"So then you kind of have a chicken and an egg situation of how do we make that child care affordable, and then how we do pay a living wage to those caregivers who are working in the child care sector who we know are often underpaid, and how do we make it an attainable situation for everybody? Which I wish we had the answer to," Elmes says.

Maine has about 340,000 younger women, but 394,000 older adults. And the state projects it will have 38,000 unfilled care positions through 2028.

Elmes says the data paint a rough sketch of what's happening in Maine. But the commission is calling on the legislature to provide ways to collect better data so it can better tackle big policy questions.

"How many women are actually in the care economy? How many women, because of the pandemic, are unable to join or return to the workforce?" Elmes says.

The commission says the existing data don't reflect the needs of all Maine women, especially women of color and those with disabilities.

The commission says just 55% of Maine women participated in the workforce in 2021, the lowest figure in 30 years.