For the past several months, the Livingston and Washtenaw Counties Child Care Coalition—a group of local child care providers, families, policymakers, and economic development professionals—has been working to better understand the current child care landscape and some of the challenges it presents for families and local businesses. By gathering this data, the coalition hopes to inform the development of an action plan to improve child care in the region. The coalition recently published reports that showcase the extent to which families and providers are struggling and how those struggles impact local employers.
“When we started this work, we knew that accessing affordable and high-quality child care was a huge challenge for Livingston and Washtenaw County families,” said Paul Krutko, president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, the organization leading the coalition. “Now that we have the data to quantify the challenge and the impact it is having, we look forward to continue having conversations to start moving toward solutions.”
One report, based on a recent survey of families in Livingston and Washtenaw County, shows that 59 percent of area families do not have child care that meets their needs; the percentage was even higher among nonwhite families and families with lower incomes. Some of the top barriers keeping families from accessing care were cost, which the report shows averages over $1,000 per child per month, and lack of open child care slots that match families’ schedules.
Despite the demand for more child care slots in the region, many child care business owners and administrators are struggling just to keep their current licensed slots open. A survey of 100 local child care providers showed that 64 percent were concerned with keeping their business afloat and 38 percent would consider closing if they do not receive additional staffing or funding support. The staffing challenges could worsen; a survey of local child care workers showed that over 25 percent are considering leaving the field due to a range of factors, most notably low wages—the average child care worker makes approximately $13 an hour—and burnout.
“We hope these reports will showcase to the larger community the challenges providers are facing on a daily basis,” said Robin Schutz, Great Start Collaborative Coordinator, Livingston County. “The current state of child care makes it nearly impossible for providers to balance keeping care affordable for families and making the income needed to pay their employees a livable wage. We need to work together to find funding and policy solutions that address this challenging intersection.
The challenges presented by child care are not only affecting families and providers, but also the local economy. Eighty-five percent of parents surveyed indicated they have experienced employment challenges such as missing work, being less productive, or being forced to resign due to unmet child care needs. Seventy-three percent of 50 area employers surveyed said child care at least somewhat impacts their ability to recruit and retain employees; approximately half indicated that their current employees’ child care needs were negatively impacting their business.
“It’s become clear through this work how deeply connected access to child care is to our local economy,” said Cheranissa Williams, Washtenaw County Economic Opportunity Manager. “While this data is helpful for understanding the challenges we face, I hope we are able to take the next step towards actually starting to address this issue for providers, for families, and for local businesses.”
While findings from these reports point to a number of challenges, the coalition is currently working to identify short- and long-term solutions as part of an action planning process. A regional action plan, expected to be released in early 2024, will include strategies for providers, local businesses, policymakers, and local economic development professionals to begin addressing these challenges.
Ann Arbor SPARK is partnering with Public Sector Consultants, a women-owned nonpartisan policy research firm, to support this work. Read the full report and stay up-to-date on project activities by visiting annarborusa.org/childcare.