Laurie Lopez is a mother of two with another one on the way, due in December and she’s having a difficult time finding childcare. The current daycare she uses is losing employees left and right. When she asked some of the caretakers she got close to why they quit, they told her that they were being paid better at new jobs in other places.
Laurie searched for months for a new daycare within her area in Orlando, Florida, but none of them had availability.
“When I asked my current daycare about how much it would be to add a new baby, they told me that they didn’t have any room for babies because they didn’t have enough employees to meet the ratio,” Lopez said.
It’s a lose-lose situation for parents and caregivers. Providers are chronically underpaid for the level of care that’s necessary for children — many of whom are just weeks-old infants that need round-the-clock attention since the United States does not have a federal paid family leave program. And parents are left with little options that don’t threaten their family’s financial stability.
Laurie is left with no choice but to take unpaid leave at home after the baby is born and try to save as much as possible before then to make it work financially. And the economy loses another woman in the workforce.
The situation is worse with the impact of COVID, with providers and the families they care for both put at a higher public health risk. The nonprofit National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) reported that 78% of respondents stated pay is the biggest challenge in recruiting and 81% said low pay is a main reason educators leave. Anecdotally, it’s what parents like Laurie are told by caretakers that quit: That compensation is both the issue and the solution for recruitment and retention of high-quality child care.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for child care workers is a little more than $12 an hour, much less than the median hourly wage for all occupations, which stands at $20.17. For many child care workers, the income they make caring for other families is barely enough to provide for the needs of their own families.
Laurie isn’t the only mother going through this, unfortunately this is the common story for parents in Florida and nationwide.
I’m a mother of two children myself, one is school-aged and my youngest is an infant. My husband and I decided that it is best for me to stay at home with my youngest and do remote freelance work. It doesn’t make sense financially to spend money on childcare because it would cost us too much. According to the latest report from the U.S. Treasury Department, the average family with at least one child under age 5 would need to devote about 13 percent of family income to pay for child care, a number that is unaffordable for most families. In this same report it stated that nationally, more than 60 percent of families are paying a higher percentage of their income toward child care than what is considered affordable.
This is why we want to see policies in the Build Back Better Act that are targeted to families, like affordable child care and higher wages for care providers, the permanent expansion of the child tax credit, and family paid leave. These will do a lot to boost our economy and help families recover.
Those who are struggling the most to get by and who face the highest burdens, mostly women in communities of color, need all of these policies that work better together. This will help build quality early childhood programs that enable inclusive growth both today and for future generations.
It’s time we created a care economy that works for every family.