No vacancies. Wait lists. Critical staffing shortages.

Phrases like this slap parents sideways in the search for child care and are heard far too often. The shortage of area slots — amply documented before COVID-19 — continues, with a dearth of staffing narrowing availability further.

Creative solutions are needed now more than ever, as parents are called back to offices, joining the search already in progress by essential working parents who never left.

It’s rough out there.

And while solutions are studied, and child care money flows into parents’ bank accounts, little concrete steps emerged to shore up our dwindling supply. The problem is national, embracing both day care for kids under 6 (20,000 centers closed during the pandemic) and before- and after school programs that dwindle or fold outright.

According to a Washington Post perspective, child care is a problem the market can’t fix, and we’re paying the price today for decades of disinvestment.

“Child-care programs don’t obey the classic rules of supply and demand; many experts consider the sector a failed market. Parents are already tapped out, but the obscene prices they pay don’t come close to covering the true cost of care in such a personnel-heavy enterprise,” writes Elliot Haspel, program officer for education policy and research at the Robins Foundation in Richmond. “Only programs serving the most affluent can reasonably charge more to boost wages.”

Many centers won’t be able to compete with rising wages in other sectors, and Haspel advocates for public investment in child care staffing.

But the cash must get in the right pockets.

According to Daniel VanderMolen, project coordinator for First Steps Kent, Congress authorized $1.4 billion for Michigan child care, in the name of post-COVID economic recovery, that are stalled in Lansing.

“Lawmakers in Lansing have barely budged on getting these dollars to Michigan families and child care providers,” he told Bridge Michigan.

We also think private industry has a role to play, as businesses also stand to lose.

COVID-19 pushed many parents — especially women — out of the workforce to care for children.

Employers need these people back. Affordable, quality child care is a great way to pave the way to a healthier, more stable workforce.

Working families can only take so much, and double-whammy shortages of affordable housing and child care will mean less families will move here and fewer who will stay.

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