Boston Fed president heads to New Hampshire to talk child care, business, economic barriers
Collins continues regional tours aimed at getting first-hand perspectives on economy
Two of the biggest challenges facing the nation’s child care system were on display during Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Susan M. Collins’ trip to New Hampshire on Tuesday.
At the Growing Years Early Childhood Center in Manchester, director Kitty LaRochelle noted the group was meeting in a classroom closed due to staffing shortages. Long hours, low wages, and heavy responsibility make child care jobs a tough sell, and the center was 26 slots below capacity, she said.
“Every day we get calls (from parents) looking for care, and it breaks our heart to say no,” LaRochelle said.
As LaRochelle spoke, Amanda Morehouse’s two small children played with blocks on the floor. Morehouse left her job as a public school teacher last year due to the “crazy” high child care costs, and now she was trying to figure out if the local public preschool offered her daughter enough hours to allow her to get back to teaching.
“Do I stay home for another year? Try to find full time care? What do I do?” she said.
Collins: Visits around district offer insights from community members
Collins’ visit was part of her continuing tour of New England to hear from community members and leaders in each state. Since taking over as Boston Fed president and CEO in July, she’s also visited Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island.
At the Growing Years center, Collins noted child care is a long-time Boston Fed concern because it’s a major economic issue.
“I see the Federal Reserve’s mission as fostering a vibrant, inclusive economy,” she said. “And things like not having accessible, affordable, quality child care can (impede) people from participating in our economy. So, of course it’s part of our mission.”
After her time at the center, Collins headed to the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund in Concord, and she later met with a state business association. Collins said such discussions always highlight the importance of connecting with community members to learn from their experiences firsthand.
“While a lot of what we do at the Federal Reserve is understanding the economy by looking at data … we also learn a huge amount by talking to people,” Collins said. “We really broaden our understanding of what’s working and what’s not.”
Economic initiative works to support minority businessowners
During the meeting with leaders of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and the Manchester NAACP, Collins discussed community development and barriers facing small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The fund is a community development financial institution that helps low- and moderate-income people access loans and other financial services. It recently partnered with the Manchester NAACP to launch the Community Driven Economic Empowerment initiative, which focuses on supporting entrepreneurs of color.
Carlos Rincon, a business and community lender at the loan fund, said 41 entrepreneurs applied to the initiative, which considered 26 applicants. It ended up distributing more than $52,000 in grants among most of them, but all 41 applicants received free technical assistance and coaching, he said.
James McKim, president of the Manchester NAACP, said one initiative participant is working to become New Hampshire’s first therapist of color with a practice.
“The impact of what we’re doing and how we’re approaching this has great … benefits to the rest of the state, which we know is becoming more diverse,” he said.
Business leaders emphasize workforce challenges
At the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire, employers described current challenges, including inflation and lingering supply chain issues. But Mike Skelton, the group’s president and CEO, said their top concern is workforce availability, which is “deeply linked” to housing and child care.
Joe Shean, president and CEO of R. P. Abrasives in Rochester, said a lack of reliable child care is really hurting families and employees, as centers sometimes cancel care arrangements at the last minute or shut down on short notice.
“The level of frustration for the employee, as well as the lack of efficiency for the (business), is hard to overestimate,” he said.
Val Zanchuck, owner of Graphicast in Jaffrey, said limited housing is the biggest workforce issue. He said he’s tried to build more homes in his rural area but struggled to get approval from local zoning boards.
“If people can’t live in town, they can’t work in town,” Zanchuck said. “I can’t hire enough people.”
Collins said collaboration will continue to be important as communities address their challenges.
“It’s important that we continue to find ways to work together,” she said. “We can’t solve these problems alone.”