Other opinions: Workforce health depends on child care

We hear a constant grumble about workforce hiring. It often comes with a resigned blanket commentary, “No one wants to work anymore,” or, as part of a package complete with “how different it was” back in the olden, golden days.

But oversimplifications often miss the point, and undercut real solution-finding.

So it is with Michigan’s child care crisis.

We already know that child care models operate on razor-thin margins. Operators can only charge what families can afford to pay. Full-time workers are looking at paying for 40 hours/week of care. Babysitting wage is currently $15/hour for a teenager. At this rate, families would pay more than $23,000 a year per child, about the same as a year of state university tuition, room and board.

Child care centers cost less, while requiring degreed professionals and state certifications. Yet, in Michigan, child care worker wages average about $13.25/hour and there were 9,000 vacancies posted in 2022, according to a recent Bridge Michigan story.

These vacancies impact every other workforce, as these centers, group homes and licensed family homes operate on ratios that set out how many children can be supervised by one adult.

A recent LARA survey found that nearly seven in 10 child care operations are accepting fewer children, nearly half increased wait lists and 39 percent cut operating hours because of staffing.

Fewer workers mean fewer families served, and increase chances that someone may drop out of the workforce.

Traverse City’s Angel Care Preschool and Child Care has 22 slots for infants and toddlers, and 150 families on a waiting list. The center stabilized its 16-person workforce with $18-22/hour wages, but families, many already struggling with inflation, pay for the increases, Executive Director Alicia Swanson told Bridge. Five-day, full-time tuition runs about $16,000/year.

“I honestly don’t know how families do it,” Swanson said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged Michigan’s jobless rate at 3.6 percent in July. That’s not a population that “doesn’t want to work.” We also know Baby Boomer retirements accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, that people having fewer children, longevity and the cost of long-term care will take an impending toll on our overall economy.

The child care problem has no simple solution — what’s clear is that it’s a good place to start looking.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle


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