2020 has given a whole new meaning to African proverb, ‘It takes a village.’
As COVID-19 spread like wildfire and school closings swept the nation this year, the childcare industry was overburdened and underfunded. A problem, childcare professionals say, began long before the pandemic arrived.
“The current pandemic and virtual schooling are a challenge for us,” said Linda Kudrna, owner of Learning Ladder Preschool and Childcare in Cottage Grove. “The early care workforce is underpaid and the fees for childcare are high.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, childcare workers in 2019 were paid 11 dollars an hour on average, with a projected industry growth of only 2% over the next ten years. That number is even lower for Wisconsin specifically, where the average wages for childcare professionals put them below the poverty line.
On top of low pay, childcare workers often have to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for licensing and certification fees.
While the wages for childcare workers are low, the cost for their services are soaring.
In research done by the Economic Policy Institute, the annual average cost for childcare services in Wisconsin is roughly $13,000 per year; a number only $2,000 short of the average cost of college tuition for one year in Wisconsin.
With the Census Bureau reporting the average family income in Wisconsin at $59,209, this means some families are spending almost 22% of their income on childcare alone.
Yet, while the industry has certainly felt the impact of COVID-19, the misgivings in both local and national childcare did not suddenly appear with the pandemic, and certainly won’t leave with it. Unless, Kudrna said, childcare professionals get a fair legislative shake.
“The bigger challenge for the future of our economy and young children is the urgency to gain statewide recognition that education begins at birth,” Kudrna explained. She said while Learning Ladder received some grant funding to stay open for the time being, they will need more to keep going.
Kudrna is a board member for the Wisconsin Child Care Administrators Association (WCCAA), an organization that advocates for quality childcare for Wisconsin families. The organization released in a Sept. 18 statement that proper recognition at the state level is imperative to their mission of delivering proper childcare to local families.
“The growing crisis in childcare/early care and education (ECE) can only be solved by substantial financial support by the state of Wisconsin. The COVID pandemic has shown ECE programs are the foundation needed to ensure a strong workforce across Wisconsin,” the WCCAA statement reads.
The letter from WCCAA also points out that the financial crisis in childcare is disproportionately impacting women.
“The majority of early care programs are administered by women, of whom the majority are also small businesses,” the letter reports. “40% of early care programs closed initially during COVID, 20% are still closed. This in addition to the early care programs that had closed before the crises amounts to a substantial loss of ECE slots across the state.”
WCCAA also believes that education begins at birth, not when a child walks through the door of a public or private school.
Moving forward, Kudrna is hopeful that the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will open some eyes to the plight, and importance, of the childcare industry.
“My hope is that COVID has proven to our state legislators and our community the important economic impact we play in the community,” she said. “We stayed open for essential workers, we adapted numerous times to support working families, we stepped up to support virtual learning, and we attract young families to the community.”