Child care access a barrier to women’s workforce participation in Arkansas, study finds

The new report on the status of Arkansas women is the first in nearly 50 years.

By: - December 7, 2022 5:00 pm
Arkansas Women's Commission chair Alison Williams speaks at a press conference

Arkansas Women’s Commission chair Alison Williams discussed the findings of the group’s final report on Dec. 7, 2022. (Screengrab from livestream)

Access to quality child care and health services are challenges facing Arkansas women, according to a study by the Arkansas Commission on the Status of Women. 

The 19-member commission formally presented its final report to Gov. Asa Hutchinson Wednesday. It was the first report produced by the group in nearly half a century.

The challenge of finding quality care underlies many other challenges facing women in Arkansas because the burden of child care largely falls to women, chair Alison Williams said during a press conference Wednesday. Williams is Hutchinson’s chief of staff.

“COVID-19 exacerbated long-standing challenges, especially for those women in rural communities who may have already had difficulty accessing quality child care due to the clustering of child care in more heavily populated areas, transportation challenges or availability for second and third shift workers,” she said.

Access to basic physical and mental health services also dramatically declined during the pandemic and have not rebounded, Williams said. 

Through its research, the commission found a strong desire for more mentorship, especially with regard to entrepreneurship. 

“The flexibility of working for oneself is enticing to women balancing any number of competing priorities that don’t fit neatly into a typical work day,” Williams said. 

Hutchinson reinstated the commission in February and tasked its members with researching labor force participation rates among Arkansas women, including single mothers; participation rates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and other high demand career paths; barriers of entry into the workforce and the effects of child care on women in the workforce and the participation rate.

The commission made eight recommendations:

  • Meaningfully engage the business community to address child care challenges
  • Increase access to women’s and mental health resources, especially in rural communities
  • Increase equity in the labor force and in entrepreneurship
  • Increase mentorship for women 
  • Incentivize Arkansans to enter or remain in the early childhood education profession
  • Increase awareness of programs designed to assist single parents
  • Increase equity in STEM education
  • Provide technical assistance and capacity building for expanding existing child care businesses 

To address the mentorship recommendation, Hutchinson announced he would commit $200,000 from his discretionary rainy day fund to support the expansion of the Women’s Business Leadership Center at Arkansas State University. The funding will be used to create the Delta Women’s Leadership Academy, which will provide mentorship to college students interested in becoming entrepreneurs and business owners. 

Williams said she had a strong desire for the commission’s recommendations to be “actionable.” During a report launch event following the press conference, a handful of organizations discussed steps they would towards the report’s recommendations.

Walmart donated $25,000 to the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. It will support the organization’s efforts to take the report across the state next year and continue “building a cross section of stakeholders of foundations, for-profits, state agencies, on how we can continue to be innovative because Arkansas women deserve it,” WFA CEO Anna Beth Gorman said.

Excel by Eight, a statewide collaborative focused on improving health and education outcomes for infants, toddlers and their families, will hire a campaign director to work with chambers of commerce and businesses to identify and address child care needs impacting their employees.

The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund announced it will increase awareness of programs designed to assist single parents by working with the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services.

There have been four commissions focused on women throughout the state’s history. The first in 1964 focused on the social, political and economic status of women, while the next looked at state employment laws and the differences in legal treatment between men and women. 

The commission was reinstated in 1973 to find ways women could become larger participants in the state’s economic, political and social institutions. That was the last group to produce a report.

A 1975 commission focused, in part, on the implementation of Title IX and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, but did not produce a report. 

Hutchinson signed an executive order to reinstate the commission in February. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, which the governor credited with prompting his decision to reinstate the commission.

WFA did not have a formal member on the council, but the group acted as a resource by sharing the previous research it conducted. WFA also provided $20,000 to support the work of the commission.

The commission met monthly since February and collected feedback through an online survey, a phone survey and regional meetings in Fayetteville, Lake Village, Mountain Home, Pine Bluff, Russellville, Jonesboro and Magnolia.  

“I’ve read those reports and they’re enlightening, they’re concerning and they’re motivating, and I hope that this is how this commission report will be received,” Hutchinson said.

More information about the commission is available at

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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.