It might seem common sense that a predictable work schedule would improve parents’ ability to enroll and keep children in stable, high-quality child care. Even so, this is one of the underappreciated aspects of efforts like the Fair Work Week legislation recently introduced in the Colorado General Assembly.

The research supports that belief, and goes further, showing that fair scheduling policies result in better early educational outcomes and a more robust workforce.

Scheduling stability would support the goals that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis laid out when he celebrated the signing of legislation last year establishing the state’s Universal Pre-K program.

At the time, the governor lauded the potential of universal pre-K education to strengthen the workforce and to get kids ready for school, saying the state’s “youngest students will be prepared for the success they deserve from the start.”

To fully support those aims, it’s imperative that the state also support the scheduling stability that research shows working parents need to take full advantage of new universal pre-K investments. The research on this issue is broad and deep.

Scheduling fluctuations result in one in five mothers who work in the restaurant industry losing their childcare provider, according to a study by the Harvard Shift Project that relied on research by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Other research shows that working parents whose jobs involve “just-in-time” scheduling practices are more likely to be forced to cobble together a patchwork of less reliable care, leaving high-quality programs like universal pre-K out of reach. On-call work and last-minute scheduling are associated with parents being forced to choose “more numerous care arrangements, with a reliance on informal care arrangements, with the use of siblings to provide care, and with young children being left alone without adult supervision,” according to research that relied on survey data from the Harvard Shift Project.

Research by the Economic Policy Institute speaks to the negative developmental consequences facing children of parents working irregular hours, and instability in childcare is linked to adverse outcomes for children. Conversely, research by the Urban Institute shows how stability in child care improves children’s language, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes.

The ability to reliably lean on high-quality child care is one of the many reasons that predictable scheduling policies support stronger workforce participation and major turnover cost savings that would boost Colorado businesses’ bottom lines.

It’s been widely reported in Colorado that employers have difficulty filling jobs and often have had to reduce business hours. Research shows women, in particular, are more likely to enter the workforce if they have reliable child care.

In an analysis by the Center for American Progress, “eighty-nine percent of mothers who found childcare were employed compared with 77 percent of mothers who did not find a child care program.”

We also know the “Great Resignation” continues to hold our economy back, and recent data show quit rates are highest in the food service and retail sectors, where last-minute scheduling is common. A Pew Research Center Survey found that 48% of workers with a child younger than 18 in the household said childcare issues were a reason they quit a job

These high quit rates are costly for Colorado businesses; it costs employers about 20% of a worker’s salary to replace that worker. 

A new analysis by the Colorado Fiscal Institute uses statewide data on employment, wages, and quarterly turnover to estimate the policy impact in the industries covered by the proposed Fair Work Week bill. The research found that fair scheduling would save Colorado businesses nearly $130 million in turnover costs across all covered industries annually. 

The good news for businesses: Fair work week policies have been shown to significantly reduce turnover. Other research shows that better retention means businesses not only save these costs but also gain a more productive workforce and better organizational performance

Though the initial committee vote on it was postponed, Colorado Fair Work Week is a productive step toward giving families the tools to thrive while supporting employers with a stronger, more reliable workforce. Scheduling predictability for parents would deliver positive child development outcomes and ease workforce shortages.

It’s a common-sense reform that would keep Colorado moving in the right direction in improving conditions for its families, children, and business owners.

Perrine Monnet, of Boulder, is a policy analyst for the Bell Policy Center.

Sophie Mariam, of Denver, is a labor policy analyst for Colorado Fiscal Institute.

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Perrine Monnet

Perrine Monnet, of Boulder, is a policy analyst for the Bell Policy Center

Sophie Mariam

Sophie Mariam is a labor policy analyst with the Colorado Fiscal Institute.