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Last July, Congress passed bipartisan legislation allocating tens of billions of dollars in manufacturing incentives to grow the U.S. semiconductor industry, which is facing a labor shortage. The Department of Commerce announced Tuesday that applicants seeking more than $150 million of the federal funding must also provide “affordable, accessible, reliable and high-quality child care” to their facilities and construction workers, part of a push to address the shortage by recruiting more women to a field dominated by men. It is the first time a federal grant program has required a child care proposal.
In a speech last week at Georgetown University, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said we are in the middle of a “tremendous labor shortage.” The country is on track to have a deficit of more than 90,000 skilled technicians by 2030. Currently, only about 3 in 10 manufacturing workers are women, and about 1 in 10 construction workers are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If women participated in the labor force at the same rate as men, there would be more than 10 million additional workers.
“We need chip manufacturers, construction companies and unions to work with us toward the national goal of hiring and training another million women in construction over the next decade to meet the demand not just in chips, but other industries and infrastructure projects as well,” Raimondo said. “Many unions have pioneered innovative and effective programs for reaching underserved communities. … If we get this right, the U.S. semiconductor workforce will be the gold standard for other industries to follow.”
The semiconductor — technology that forms the foundation of industries from automobiles to household appliances to defense systems — was invented in the United States more than a century ago. Now, the U.S. only produces 10 percent of the world’s supply. To boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing, President Joe Biden in August signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law. The bill provides more than $50 billion for American semiconductor research, development, manufacturing and workforce development.
Mike Schmidt, the director of the CHIPS Program Office — which distributes the funding — said to meet the requirement, child care must be “within reach for low- and medium-income households,” be located at a convenient location with hours that meet workers’ needs, provide a safe environment that families can trust and ensure that workers will not need to miss work for unexpected child care issues.
“There are many American employers who are recognizing the importance of child care in order to access the workforce that they need to be competitive as well,” Schmidt said. “So we are building on practice and insights that have been increasingly understood from the private sector and baking it in as a core part of our program.”
The incentive is also part of a greater goal of the administration to increase women’s participation in the workforce. According to the Commerce Department, recent research shows that decreasing child care costs by 10 percent leads to an increase in maternal employment by up to 2.5 percent.
More than half of Americans live in a child care desert, and working mothers continue to bear the brunt, staying out of work to cover child care in higher numbers. Black women and Latinas, in particular, are most likely to work in jobs with less flexibility or quit their jobs because of child care disruptions at higher rates than White women.
“At the end of the day, we expect that this is going to have a meaningful impact on the ability of women and a broader set of people to access jobs in the semiconductor industry,” Schmidt said. “We need a broad-based, diverse, skilled workforce in order to meet our economic and national security objectives — and we really view this child care provision as an essential tool for making sure that happens.”
Schmidt said the child care options aren’t going to be a “one-size-fits-all approach.” He anticipates that different localities and regions will have dynamics that require different solutions for caregivers, whether that be new on-site centers or child care services already established in the community.
Sarah Rittling, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group dedicated to expanding learning and care programs for newborns to 5-year olds, said that she’s been hearing for years from small, medium and large companies that child care is a major concern for their employees and their ability to do their jobs.
“We in the child care world have seen increased awareness from so many different perspectives on the role that child care plays in this country — for a family, for business and industry and our economy,” Rittling said, adding that the pandemic highlighted the fragility of the country’s child care infrastructure.
Rittling said she is excited to see the Biden administration lift up the importance of caregiving and prioritize child care, specifically, in his policy agenda.
“To see the administration continue to look for ways in which they can help families find and afford care is significant,” Rittling said. “It’s significant that they’re looking at this funding stream and leveraging it to address the child care crisis.”