Column: Kids Count Report shines spotlight on America’s faltering childcare system

June 28, 2023 4:05 am

Abigail Guerrero and her daughter during the first day of preschool at Matrix Head Start on Sept. 7, 2021 | Ken Coleman

The burdens that families have been carrying on their shoulders as a result of costly and hard-to-find childcare in our country keep getting heavier, causing too many households to struggle to make ends meet, while also driving people out of the workforce and having a direct impact on child well-being at a critical time in their development. 

Our faltering childcare system has also cost the economy billions of dollars annually and failed our critical childcare workforce by not paying living wages.

These were my key takeaways from the recent release of the national 2023 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation — a 50-state report of recent household data analyzing how children and families are faring. 

This year’s report presents an important opportunity for us to lift up the childcare issues impacting every state in our country, including Michigan, and advocate for ways that government leaders can improve our childcare system through new solutions and investments. 

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While America’s childcare system has long been on shaky ground, things have only become worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As it stands today, many families in our country and state are facing overwhelming affordability issues when it comes to securing care for their children, resulting in tremendous stress and impossible choices. 

Here in Michigan, the average cost of center-based childcare for a toddler in 2021 was $11,309 — 11% of a married couple’s median income and an astounding 37% of a single mother’s median income in the state. 

Moreover, we also know that families are facing access challenges, including hard-to-find childcare, long waitlists to get into childcare programs and issues with securing care that is compatible with work schedules and commutes. 

Affordability and access challenges have made working while raising children difficult, if not impossible, for too many American families, including Michigan families. In fact, according to this year’s report, 14% of Michigan children 5 and under lived in families in which someone quit, changed or refused a job because of problems with childcare in 2020-21, which is slightly more than the national average of 13%. 

Women are disproportionately impacted as they are five to eight times more likely than men to experience negative employment consequences related to caregiving. 

Furthermore, by not paying a living wage to childcare workers, our current childcare system is worsening disparities for women, especially women of color, who are disproportionately represented in the childcare workforce. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, childcare workers are paid worse than 98% of other professions, with the median national pay for childcare workers in 2022 being $28,520 per year or $13.71 an hour. 

This is substantially low — lower than the pay for retail and customer service workers in 2022 — and has certainly contributed to childcare workforce shortages that have exacerbated access challenges for families seeking care. 

To help ease the burdens that families and childcare workers have been shouldering for far too long, the League joins the Annie E. Casey Foundation in advocating for stronger childcare investments and the strengthening of existing federal programs that provide support, including the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, Head Start and the Access Means Parents in School program. 

Here in Michigan, state leaders have prioritized childcare in recent investments, including through start-up grants for new childcare businesses and regional childcare planning grants, efforts that will make childcare accessible and affordable to more families. To build on that momentum, we at the League support maximizing remaining pandemic recovery act dollars to fund needed childcare services and capacity. We also support the Think Babies Michigan collaborative policy agenda, which focuses on increasing access and affordability of childcare, ensuring childcare subsidies are fully utilized by families and providers and growing the critical workforce needed by thousands of Michigan families by making childcare an in-demand career path. 

Additionally, we support improving the infrastructure for home-based childcare, beginning with lowering the barriers to entry for potential providers by increasing access to start-up and expansion capital. Improving home-based childcare infrastructure will not only support this critical segment of the childcare workforce, but also support families, as home-based childcare is more affordable than center-based childcare in almost every state, including Michigan. 

It is crucial that we do more to support our families with young children and childcare workers. They are critical to our economy and, more importantly, they are essential to the well-being and early learning opportunities for young children growing up in our country today.


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Monique Stanton
Monique Stanton

Monique Stanton is the President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. Stanton comes to the League after working for CARE of Southeastern Michigan from 2008-2020, including eight years at its helm.