The childcare conundrum
Posted on 12/09/15 by Amelia Hayes
The affordability of childcare for low-income families is receiving deserved attention, but costs are so high that the ability to pay for high-quality care is a middle-class problem as well.
It’s good to see more focus on early childhood development. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish has proposed investing $10 million in pre-kindergarten programs, while Cleveland news organizations are teaming up on a year-long project exploring the importance of the first 2,000 days of a child’s life.
With regard to childcare, however, our public policies remain weak.
Policy Matters has written several reports, including Childcare cliffs, canyons and cracks, which explores how Ohio’s childcare aid system no longer works for families in today’s unstable economy. The churning labor market of low-wage, temporary jobs and relentless plant and office closures bounce parents in and out of jobs and kids in and out of the childcare program.
Low eligibility levels to be accepted into the program — less than about $26,000 a year for a parent with two kids — keep parents from seeking higher pay when they seek a new job or graduate from college, for fear of losing eligibility for childcare assistance. Ohio is among the stingiest states when it come to eligibility for childcare assistance. This is useful in understanding the hardships for low-income families and why getting ahead is so hard.
Middle-income families earn too much to qualify for child-care assistance. But many can’t make ends meet if they pay for high-quality childcare.
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released alarming data that showed that childcare costs more than rent for most of the country. According to the EPI Family Budget calculator a family of two adults and two young children in the Cleveland area, with a payment of $895 a month for childcare, would need to make $60,900. That number is what many consider middle class, but the calculator doesn’t take into account student loan payments, a car payment and unexpected expenses. Sixty thousand dollars starts to feel less and less like the middle class, especially when you have children.
“The spotlight has been shown on the barriers childcare poses to low-income families, but I would say that this crisis is also affecting middle class families,” said Martina Chatmon of SCAYL Ohio, a group advocating for stable childcare.
Chatmon and her husband both work and are struggling between sending their 1-year-old daughter to a high-quality center or finding a more affordable sitter so that childcare expenses don’t eat up their budget.
Her colleague, Hannah Lebovits, added that childcare costs can prevent middle-income couples from being able to buy a house or put in extra hours to advance a career.
“For those of us who are in the middle-class, childcare literally takes all of our savings and possible discretionary income,” she said.
So what can Ohio do to help? A good start would be to raise initial eligibility for childcare assistance from 130 percent of poverty ( just over $26,000 a year for a family of three) to 200 percent (about $40,200 for this family), and guaranteeing a child ongoing eligibility in a classroom for 12 months at a time, as done in public pre-K programs. This would go a long way toward helping low- and middle-income families get ahead in a tumultuous job market.