Alex Rossman: Why we should all care about the high cost of child care

April 12, 2019 6:00 am

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As the parents of twin infants, my wife and I pay more than $500 a week to send them to a child care center. That’s about 10 times more than a monthly car payment and double a home mortgage payment. In fact, on average, the annual cost of child care in Michigan is rivaling the cost of college.

Prices are high all over, and if you do find a good deal, there’s usually a (bad) reason why. And as I’ve said many times in trying to quiet my own financial anxiety, if there’s a place you shouldn’t be skimping, it’s the care of your kids.

And it’s not just their basic safety. Child care means so much more these days, which I am painfully and neurotically aware of as someone who has read about 20 drafts of the upcoming 2019 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book in the last two months (it’s dropping April 23, by the way). Child care and preschool are integral to children’s development, their foundation for learning and their preparation for school.

This sticker shock, parental debate and constant cost-benefit analysis are similar for all parents, of all incomes, in all parts of the state.

That’s why the Michigan League for Public Policy is releasing two new videos to share some parents’ perspectives about the importance of child care to local families — and of state efforts to improve access and affordability.  

Hannah G. is the mother of five kids and her three youngest daughters are in child care.

“Trying to find child care was extremely challenging. Because I was a young parent, I was still trying to go to school, I was working as well, and … unfortunately chose some child care places that were not of greatest quality because they were in my budget,” she said. “Right now, for me to be able to afford that quality, I make a lot of sacrifices.”

Courtney M. has three children, including two less than two years apart.

“We knew when it came time for child care that it was going to be difficult,” she said. “…We were looking at paying for child care for two infants, and those costs were just astronomical and honestly it just wasn’t even affordable for me to work full-time and pay for child care. As somebody who has focused on her career for a while, that was a difficult decision for me to decide to go down to part-time, because I knew that it meant lost years in the workplace.”

Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

She added, “Everybody needs access to high-quality, affordable child care. We shouldn’t have to make decisions on whether or not we can afford quality or whether or not we can afford [child care] at all.”

Hannah and Courtney are just two voices, but they share experiences with millions of other Michigan parents. And they’re right — the state can and should do more.

That’s why child care access and affordability continues to be a high-profile issue for the League.

In our Owner’s Manual for Michigan, we outlined three ways to move the needle on child care access: increase the income eligibility cutoff for child care support; increase child care subsidies to ensure that parents can afford 75 percent of the child care in their communities; and establish grants and contracts with providers to increase high-quality care for shortage areas.

Helping parents find affordable child care was also one of our 2020 state budget priorities, and we were pleased to see Gov. Gretchen Whitmer include funding to improve child care access and early education in her state budget proposal.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

Currently, Michigan has one of the lowest income eligibility thresholds in the country for child care subsidies. Families cannot earn enough to offset child care costs but earn too much to be eligible for assistance.

Child care and preschool have an impact on two generations. Affordable child care makes it easier for parents to work to support their families and drive our local economies, and provides young children with the experiences they need to succeed in school and ultimately in the workforce.

These women didn’t just share their stories. They let us into their homes and into their lives. We are grateful for their voices and all they are doing for their families. These are the people and perspectives that we hope lawmakers will keep in mind as they and continue their budget work in the coming months.

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Alex Rossman
Alex Rossman

Alex Rossman is external affairs director for the Michigan League for Public Policy. Alex previously worked for Democratic Central Staff for the Michigan Senate for almost 10 years, serving as the deputy communications director and, previously, as press secretary and communications advisor.