(WSYM) — It is time to learn your numbers when it comes to child care. For years, the State of Michigan has been sending a lot of money back to the federal government that it could be investing in child care. And the pandemic has exposed how we have not been investing.
At the Teaching Today’s Youth Leaders Child Care in Southfield, owner Claricha Foster strives to give love, education, and care. She has been running the child care facility for several years, and is hoping this year, for the first time, if all goes well, to make a profit.
But she doesn’t do what she does for the money.
"What we know about the 0 to 5 age, we call that the critical period, people learn how to walk, talk and how to be in a world amongst other people. That is the most important time to be in a person’s life. Not in a child’s life. In a person’s life. It is asinine that we don’t invest in children in that time," said Foster.
A chart from the Michigan League for Public Policy shows how in Michigan for years until recently, the number of families receiving child care subsidies dropped along with spending.
It's because the state legislature didn’t match federal spending for child care. Michigan sent more than $67 million to other states between 2014 and 2017. Then COVID-19 hit. Child care facilities had no cushion. Some shut down, and others, like Foster, decreased enrollment for safety purposes.
"Child care forces parents to do some calculations, is it more economically feasible for me to just stay at home, instead of pay more in child care than I make at my job," said Alex Rossman with the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Rossman says the average cost of child care for a toddler in Michigan is $683 a month, and in metro Detroit often higher, with the average in Oakland County at $894 a month.
Businesses lobbied to make working make sense for those with children. The legislature took bipartisan action last month allocating state dollars to help more families afford child care so we don’t lose federal funding.
The question is, will it lead to enough income to help child care centers recruit staff?
The typical Michigan child care worker would have to sacrifice about 49% of their pay, ironically, just to pay for infant care, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.
"Right now the biggest challenge, and we are certainly not alone in this, is having the staffing levels available to meet the demand of the community," said Corey Heitsch, the executive director for Elementary Teaching and Learning at Rochester Community Schools.
He said the job market could pose challenges for child care. The district wants people to know it has openings for children and child care workers in its before and after school program.
"Get the word out as much as possible that we are here," he said.
Mom of three Shardae Gaffney said, "Our kids are everything to us. We want to make sure they are going somewhere where they are safe. We want to make sure they are going somewhere where people are investing in them educationally."
Gaffney said she hopes the pandemic leads to a long-term realization that child care is essential for our economy to benefit not just businesses, but families.
"It is crazy that we even have to advocate for this. Because when we invest in young children we invest in all of society," said Foster.