A recent report states that child care in Illinois is “unavailable, unaffordable, and unsustainable.” Those are the words of the Illinois Child Care for All Coalition. This grassroots group includes parents, teachers, and childcare providers. The coalition consists of representatives from several organizations, including Healthcare Illinois, Chicago Teachers Union, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The report titled “Child Care In Illinois: Parents Can’t Afford To Pay, Workers Can’t Afford To Stay” says the problems in the state child care industry directly result from the current market-based child care system. Within this system, parents and workers cover the high cost of care through excessive enrollment fees and low wages.
Unaffordable and Unavailable Details:
The report explains that child care can cost between $20,000 and $50,000 annually for a family with more than one young child. However, to compound the problem, over half of the population in Illinois, a total of 58 percent, resides in areas in the state where child care services are lacking, or there is not enough to meet the demand. For example, from 2012 to 2019, child care service availability dropped considerably in Illinois. Licensed child care capacity fell 20 percent over those years, with license-exempt family child care homes dropping by 65 percent. The pandemic negatively impacted that figure.
Educators Live In Poverty:
One of the shocking facts to come out of “Child Care In Illinois: Parents Can’t Afford To Pay, Workers Can’t Afford To Stay” is that one-fifth, close to 20 percent, of the childcare providers in the state, live in poverty. They typically earn less than half of the current minimum wage rate. However, the report explains that a workforce crisis has developed in the childcare industry through this undervaluation of childcare workers. The situation has resulted in many family child care providers closing their facilities or struggling to hire staff.
Parents Discuss Child Care Issues:
So, how hard is it to find childcare these days? Parents and advocates opened a discussion on the topic at a recent news conference. Their stories about their experience are just a snapshot of the nationwide childcare crisis.
Take 23-year-old Justin Russell, a single parent, for example. He has what he describes as “limited options” for child care. Russell says daycare cost him an entire week of pay. But, he adds, “It’s a nightmare having to worry about having to miss a shift and not being able to afford food or housing or a bill because you can’t afford child care.” Russell is a member of the Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation group.
Child Care Providers Discuss Issues:
Child care service providers and their daily issues are on the other side of the coin. According to Tosha Kelly-Rushton, a 20-year early educator and daycare owner, the problem exists at the state level. She says, “Illinois doesn’t reimburse child care providers nearly enough.” Also, she explains that providers like her who operate a child care service from home never earn much more than $7 per hour per child. She points out that this figure doesn’t factor in the hours after children have left child care and are in their homes.
What work? Kelly-Rushton says that childcare providers’ end of the day is as essential as the daily program offered to children. The end-of-day chores include washing sheets, bleaching and wiping down all surfaces, and additional cleaning. Then there are the necessary grocery shopping trips to purchase food and the prep work required to create meals to be served as part of the next day’s program.
Some of her clients hold high-position jobs in major corporations. This position has led Kelly-Rushton to speculate that if these corporations were to pay the same amount they do in corporate taxes to child care services. As a result, “we could all have free child care for all, and every child care worker could receive a living wage and benefits.”
The Illinois Child Care Assistance Program:
The Illinois Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) provides low-income families access to quality child care. For eligibility, household income is a factor. For example, a family of two must earn no more than $2,819 monthly (before taxes). However, the threshold increases to $3,555 in monthly income for a family of three, $4,292 for a family of four, etc. The state’s top three employers of parents who access child care through the CCAP are Amazon, Walmart, and Mcdonald’s.
The coalition report says that Amazon is notorious for using practices that reduce taxes so that they can qualify for government contributions. The argument to support these actions from the companies that perform them is that they can turn around and create new jobs with subsidies. The downside is that the new jobs created are the same ones that “pay so little that so many of its workers are using CCAP.”
A Change Is Needed:
The main message of “Child Care In Illinois: Parents Can’t Afford To Pay, Workers Can’t Afford To Stay” is that the state of Illinois has to make a priority shift. The suggestion is to move away from using public dollars that help “the super-rich get even richer” to investing more money into early childhood education. However, the report also urges the state to support some of those dollars into stable, living-wage jobs for those who work in the childcare industry, which may prevent a labor shortage.
There continues to be a shortage of good quality child care in Illinois. The existing market-based child care system is not working. It is too costly for parents, and childcare workers remain in poverty, where they should make at least a wage to live. A change is required, and it must come from the state legislators if they expect child care services to continue in any form in Illinois.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.