Don’t look now, but there’s a worsening shortage of child care workers in the US. If you think the retail industry is having trouble hiring workers, the child care industry is also having its own share of staff shortages.
However, having a shortage of people tasked to take care of children while parents get back to work can have a more devastating effect.
Pandemic Intensifies Shortage of Child Care Workers
Even before the pandemic, hiring and retaining child care workers was already a difficult task. With the retail and restaurant industry raising their rates, the child care industry is scrambling to get positions filled.
According to Jennifer Curtis, director of South Shore Stars’ early-childhood program, they received zero applicants this year for their preschool teaching opening.
Daycare workers typically make $12 an hour for a year-round job. However, the next-door donut shop offers a starting pay of $14 per hour.
However, it’s not just the child care worker shortage that America should remain concerned about. Daycare centers are the starting point for a domino effect of problems.
Without enough workers, daycare centers will have to close down or refuse children. This, in turn, affects parents, especially mothers, who will become unable to get to work.
1.6 Million Mothers Missing From Labor Force
Currently, around 1.6 million mothers remain missing from the labor force. In particular, these mothers quit their jobs during the pandemic in order to take care of their kids.
However, the lack of child care workers is preventing them from returning to their jobs. The issue of mask mandates in schools, plus the lack of approved vaccines for kids is making a return to the workforce even more complicated.
The problem is noticeable enough for the White House to take notice. The Treasury Department issued a report last week that called the present child care system “unworkable,” given the high costs for parents, low salaries for workers, and limited slots for kids.
According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the problem needs an infusion. “Child care is a textbook example of a broken market,” she said. Families spend on average around one-eighth of income on child care for young children.
In contrast, daycare workers rank in the bottom 2 % of all professions. She added that this is why President Joe Biden is proposing the largest federal investment in child care.
Day Care Is a Crisis
Diane Barber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association, acknowledges the severity of the situation. “This is a crisis. Parents are looking for child care, but now it’s this Catch-22.
We don’t have the staff, so we can’t open the classrooms, so families can’t go back to work because they can’t find child care,” she remarked.
The industry declined by 10% compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to the Labor Department, the child care industry still lacks 126,700 workers. At this point, hiring a child care worker is more difficult than hiring a restaurant worker, which is also in short supply.
Where are the Child Care Workers?
As it turns out, young women in their late teens or mid-twenties are often those who apply for daycare center teachers. Given the low pay and the pandemic situation, many have migrated to better-paying jobs that are less stressful.
This includes getting new roles as administrative assistants, retail workers, and bank employees. Since June, the Labor Department estimates that more than 10,000 child care workers have left the industry.
Roberts is now employed as an administrative assistant for a tech company in her home at $15 an hour with benefits. This is a big leap from the hourly pay of $11.45 she made at a chain daycare center.
As a result, many child care providers are now considering shutting down. According to a report last month from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, over half of the minority-owned centers are in danger of losing their business.
Barber, who runs the child-care group in Pennsylvania, says she now spends much of her day trying to talk daycare owners “off the ledge” so they don’t close.
Watch the WTTW Chicago video reporting on how child care providers are dealing with a staff shortage:
Do you use child care centers for your children? Did you notice the lack of workers or decreasing number of slots available? What do you think the government should do to address the child care industry crisis? Share your thoughts below.