America’s childcare crisis fueled by worker shortages in daycare centers

Jessica Duckett’s Teddy Bear Day Care and Preschool is feeling the effects of the nation’s hiring crisis firsthand. At her location in Fairfax, Virginia, Duckett said she is short as many as six employees and has only 60 of a possible 109 children enrolled simply because she doesn’t have the staff to care for them.

Duckett said that sometimes applicants don’t even bother to show up. Others are not qualified or seek wages that she cannot afford if she wants to keep costs down for parents. She offers average wages ranging from $13 to $14, free childcare for staff and benefits at her two locations.

“There’s not really a rental situation,” Duckett said. “We interview people who don’t really qualify. People apply but don’t show up for interviews, people come to interviews and agree to take the job but don’t follow background checks.”

The lack of childcare workers creates a larger ripple effect in the overall economy, keeping parents out of work, exacerbating larger shortages felt in nearly every industry. Affordability is another issue for many parents, with some industry advocates eyeing President Joe Biden’s economic plan that would provide state funding for preschool and day care as a potential boost.

A recent survey of more than 7,500 respondents from child care centers and homes across the country found worker shortages in nearly every state, with some as high as 90 percent. Many said they are taking fewer children into care as a result, according to a nationwide survey in August by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

“If I enroll more children to pay for more staff and I increase the pay, [for some] people still it’s not enough, people still don’t apply, people still walk out. And then I have children who don’t have a caregiver, and that puts the families in a bad place. So it’s almost like a double-edged sword,” Duckett said.

The jobs report released on Friday showed a mixed picture with non-farm payrolls increasing by just 210,000 in November, although the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.2% from 4.6%.

The data from NAEYC shows that wages are a big issue—as many as 80 percent of workers in some states cite wages as a reason they left the child care industry. Some leave the field in search of opportunities at larger companies like Amazon or Starbucks.

Others are choosing to move into the school system, filling roles as teacher assistants and beyond, as a labor crisis is felt there as well, according to Cindy Lehnhoff, director of the National Child Care Association.

“It’s really hard work. It’s very demanding – think of yourself spending eight hours a day with 10 three-year-olds, and what kind of physicality that requires. Then there’s the mental part of it, just keeping up with the behavior and the emotions, which have been really difficult this past year because of the stress in most homes,” Lehnhoff said of the daily toll the job takes on workers who remain in the industry.

And even beyond the struggle for workers, child care is prohibitively expensive for many parents across the country.

Lehnhoff said the average ratio at licensed centers is one caregiver for every four children who are infant age and one for every 10 once they reach kindergarten. Families can seek care for more than 50 hours a week, which means that one full-time worker cannot cover the classroom for such a long day.

Another member of staff is required to cover the extra hours. This, along with facility rent, food and supplies are expensive for centers to operate. Stimulus money will help cover some costs for centers through 2024, but more will be needed to lower costs for families and attract enough workers.

President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda has a big allocation of money that Lehnhoff says would be a big win if the plan comes to fruition — $400 billion for child care, including funding for licensed facilities and lowering costs for families, as well as an investment in universal care. -K.

“This will give the middle class an opportunity to receive some support. Many of our middle class parents have been driven into unlicensed child care and typical babysitting situations. So there’s no regulation, there’s no education,” Lenhoff said. .

As the industry waits to see if the administration’s funding plan becomes a reality, Duckett said the thing that keeps her up at night after the last year is her staff’s mental health at a time when centers across the country are stretched thin.

“March 2022, will be two years that we’ve been doing this. And that’s a long time to be kind of under duress. And you’re looking for that moment to breathe. And I’m not sure that we have that moment in ‘ had a long time,” Duckett said.

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