Affordable Childcare; Financial Freedom: Building solutions that help families

As a member of the Michigan Women’s Commission, I am honored to work alongside a diverse group of women leaders from across our state to tackle contemporary issues that Michigan women have identified as most impactful in their lives. The issues boil down to economic security issues, which are applicable to women, men and families.

Affordable childcare. The first issue identified by Michigan women is access to affordable childcare. For many families, childcare is more expensive than the wages parents earn during the hours that childcare is needed. Typically, the lower wage-earning partner is the one who stays home if childcare costs outweigh that parent’s wages. In most cases, it is the woman who earns less, due to the gender pay gap – women in Michigan make $0.73 for every $1 a man makes in the same job. Inevitably, the family decides the lower wage earner should be the one to leave the workforce. Unfortunately, this is a woman in nearly every case.

Leaving the workforce puts a woman in a position of diminished financial freedom. She now relies upon her partner financially, giving her fewer options should the relationship end or become abusive. Her ability to advance in her career is stymied by hitting the pause button, such that she most likely will never achieve the highest levels of advancement in her career. If she tries to re-enter the workforce, she is set back by the time away and often forced to settle for a position below the level she had achieved prior to leaving the workforce.

While this happens to women more often than men, it is also a family financial security issue. The high cost of childcare means families that make the choice to have a parent stay at home to care for their children do not have dual incomes to support household expenses. In today’s world, it is hard to support a family with a single income and most families need more than one wage earner to make ends meet.

To reduce childcare expenses for Michigan families, Governor Whitmer launched the Michigan Tri-Share Childcare program a year ago. Northern Michigan is one of the first pilot sites.

The Tri-Share Childcare program is a public/private partnership that equally shares the cost of childcare between a participating employer, employee and the State of Michigan. United Way of Northwest Michigan serving Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Kalkaska, Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford counties, was a first pilot site for this innovative program. Based upon success of the pilot, the program has expanded to cover 59 counties in its first year and now includes 49 employers (small businesses through enterprise), caring for 40 children. More northern Michigan employers should participate. It is a great employment benefit that helps to attract and retain talent.

Financial freedom. A related priority Michigan women identified is financial freedom. Economic security is critical for family security. The Michigan Women’s Commission works to promote gender pay equality and better female representation on corporate executive teams and boards. The Michigan legislature has a history of not passing bills aimed at addressing pay equity issues. While these laws should be passed, there is only so much that government leaders can do. Women should not wait for government relief, but position themselves to the best of their abilities for financial freedom.

For example, women should pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). STEM fields are where jobs are high paying and demand for workers continues to increase. Families, encourage your daughters to pursue STEM education paths, which start in elementary school. Women, consider job retraining programs to learn skills in fields of technology. STEM careers provide better year-round income stability than Northern Michigan tourism. STEM fields have often been male-dominated, yet there exist significant opportunities for women to advance in careers related to technology.

The next Women’s Commission meeting will be held in Traverse City in August. The commission was originally founded by TC’s own first lady Helen Milliken. It is great that we have the opportunity to host the upcoming meeting and draw attention to our region’s success with Tri-Share and efforts that local business leaders are making to create and build a hi-tech industry in Traverse City, providing more STEM career opportunities for women (and men) in our region.

Katie Horvath is the chief marketing officer for Aunalytics, a leading data platform company delivering insights as a service. Prior to Aunalytics, she held the post of CEO for Naveego where she was the only woman CEO of a big data company in North America until 2021 when the business was acquired.

 

 

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