Wisconsin’s childcare crisis
May 26, 2021
Paying for childcare is no joke for families in Wisconsin and across the country. Before the pandemic, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) released a study that found Wisconsin families pay an average of $12,268 per year for infant care and $9,954 for the care of toddlers and four-year-olds. That is a big chunk of change to pay for the privilege of working while growing a family.
Before the pandemic hit, many families had to resort to waiting lists to snag a daycare spot. This was especially true in less populated areas of the state, which had a chronic lack of childcare facilities and teachers. According to research by the Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF), Wisconsin also had a chronic lack of high-quality daycare providers, amounting to less than 10 percent of providers in 12 counties and 13 percent in Milwaukee County, which has both the highest number of providers and children in daycare.
The pandemic hasn’t improved the situation. Data published by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) in May showed that 39 percent of Wisconsin’s 4,500 childcare providers had closed. In an April letter to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, DCF reported that this affected 57,000 Wisconsin children. DCF data showed that 19 of the state’s 72 counties reported childcare facility closure rates of over 50 percent, many in northeast, eastern, and central Wisconsin.
Some families rely on aid from Wisconsin Shares, the state’s childcare subsidy program, to help pay for childcare, but the WPF reported that even this is not enough for many struggling families. But the high cost of caring for preschool-age children is one side of the coin; providing that childcare is the other.
Early childhood teachers earn barely more than poverty-level wages. Caitlin McLean, a senior researcher at the CSCCE, told Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) that the poverty rate for early childhood educators is nearly 20 percent. The median wage for childcare educators in Wisconsin is just $10.66 per hour.
“Educators are really subsidizing the system with their low wages,” McLean told WPR.
Low wages keep those who want to be early childhood teachers from staying in the profession, especially in non-urban areas. Educators can’t earn as much in these facilities and, Brooke Skidmore of The Growing Tree Early Learning Center in New Glarus told WPR, many migrate to counties like Dane to increase earnings.
Childcare facilities themselves operate on slim margins to begin with. Out of the amount paid by families for care, facilities must pay staff wages, building facilities, cleaning, supplies, licensing fees, training, professional organizations, and education supplies. Some facilities provide health insurance; others do not. Facility operators must hire one educator to care for every two children less than 2 years of age.
There is some light dawning for the industry, and in turn parents, since President Joe Biden took office. The pandemic has improved due to vaccinations, which has begun to open the economy. Childcare facilities can reopen as some of the 865,000 women who dropped out of the workforce nationwide return to work.
Families will have more money each month because the Biden administration plans to start temporary monthly child tax credit payments in July as part of the American Rescue Plan. The Treasury Department announced on May 17 that families with children under 6 can receive full $300 benefits, while those with children 6 and over can receive $250. Payment sizes will be reduced based on income levels. Biden bills this as a tax break for the middle class.
Biden’s America’s Jobs Plan recognizes childcare work as part of the US infrastructure and early childhood education as important to improving educational outcomes for children. If this bill passes, it will help improve the childcare situation immensely.
But early childcare educators like Skidmore aren’t holding their breath.
“I just hope that our government is able to put the money toward the workforce,” she told WPR, “because the workforce really ties in to all the factors of early childcare—the quality, the accessibility, the affordability.”