Mayor's View: Lack of child care taking its toll on families, businesses

From the column: "The challenge reaches far beyond Duluth. There is an urgent need for state and federal resources, on the scale we invest in other aspects of our children’s education."

Lead teacher Morgan Pergman plays with Hendrix and Jackson at Aunty's Childcare Center in the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth.
News Tribune file photo by Clint Austin /

Every child deserves a great start in life. We all benefit when that happens. We know from abundant evidence and a parent’s common sense that a child’s first years are critical to their outcome in life.

And yet, as a society, we haven’t invested with the required urgency to meet this need.

As mayor, along with other local elected officials and community leaders, I see firsthand the impact this lack of investment in child care and early-childhood learning has on our community. I hear the urgent stories all the time, every day.

In conversations about a whole range of issues and projects, it’s remarkable how often child care comes up: Parents struggle to find child care so they can go to work. Or they make the choice to not enter the workforce because they can’t afford to pay up to 40% of their income for child care. Employers like Cirrus and so many others are looking to expand but find it hard to find enough workers, in part because of a lack of child care. Child-care providers love their work but face closing their businesses because of a lack of staff or the inability to make ends meet in a profession they cherish. Child-care workers can’t continue doing the work they love because they can earn more at McDonalds or driving Uber. Story after story after story keeps coming back to child care.

Child care is one of the critical issues we face. When parents can’t find quality child care and early learning, parents leave our workforce, our businesses struggle to hire and retain their employees, and we see young parents and businesses leave for communities with more child-care opportunities.


Making sure families with young children have access to affordable, quality child care and early learning is one of the key ways that we can support our workforce, grow our local and state economies, and improve the educational and health outcomes of children in Duluth and in communities across Minnesota, large and small.

Before the pandemic, we began investing to help address gaps in child-care availability. The Duluth 1200 Fund, housed within our Planning and Economic Development Department, provides incentive loans for business expansions and relocations within the city of Duluth. As part of prioritizing child care, the city and the Duluth 1200 Fund created a child-care program to provide loans and grants to assist licensed child-care providers in creating new child-care availability for families in Duluth. These loans and grants range from $10,000 to $100,000, as part of a partnership with many local organizations to incentivize new child-care availability and support families.

The pandemic made an already deep crisis more dire and more unaffordable and inaccessible for families and for workers doing this critical work. Teachers are the most important component of a quality child-care and early-learning experience, which requires a supported and fairly compensated workforce. Those who teach and care for young children deserve living wages.

There are no simple answers. The challenge reaches far beyond Duluth. There is an urgent need for state and federal resources, on the scale we invest in other aspects of our children’s education. But we need to start sometime and somewhere, so we’re starting here.

I’m grateful the city has been a part of communitywide conversations with local businesses, parents, providers, the Chamber of Commerce, state representatives, and councilors to make this a communitywide priority. The need is clearly there, and the energy is growing to organize as one community to meet that need.

We’ve been exploring ways to build new child-care and early-learning programs, have been finding ways to help families pay for these programs, and have been using our pandemic funds to keep our child-care and early-learning programs in business.

We want to be a part of the solution — and have a role to play — but we can’t do this alone. We’re asking state leaders this legislative session to follow through on their commitments to making sure our children receive the quality child care and early learning they require and our communities need.

Now is the time to take care of our children. We can’t wait any longer!


Emily Larson is mayor of the city of Duluth. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

Emily Larson headshot
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson

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