‘Child care crisis’ holds back children, parents, economy

Local families are struggling to find affordable, quality child care and preschool, a problem that hinders companies’ ability to hire workers, leaves some kids unprepared for kindergarten and takes a toll on the economy and society, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

“The reality is we have a child care crisis,” said state Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering. “We have a workforce crisis.”

Local parents can pay as much as 19.8% of their county’s median family income for child care.

Butler, Greene, Montgomery and Warren counties are among the 27 Ohio counties with the state’s highest median annual cost — $14,189 — for the most expensive type of child care, which is center-based infant care, according to this newspaper’s analysis of the National Database of Child Care Prices released in January by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Sometimes child care can be a college tuition for some parents,” said Shelly Jackson-Engram, owner of Ms. Shelly’s Place child care center in Moraine.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Families report waiting up to 6 months for a child care slot to open and it is particularly difficult to find evening and weekend care. Availability became more limited after many child care providers closed permanently during the COVID-19 pandemic, and staffing shortages mean some of those that remain open accept fewer kids.

Fifty-two percent of parents said affording and accessing quality child care has become more difficult in the last year, according to a new statewide poll released by Groundwork Ohio, a non-partisan policy research and advocacy group.

“The region has a crushing shortage of child care seats,” said Lisa Babb, senior strategic director of 4C for Children, a non-profit resource and referral child care and preschool agency serving 15 southwest Ohio counties.

When parents can’t find child care they can’t take jobs.

“More than two-thirds of non-working or part-time working moms of young children said that they would go back to work or they would work more hours if they had access to affordable, quality child care,” said Shannon Jones, a Warren County commissioner and president and CEO of Groundwork Ohio.

“The data that really jumps out is how pervasive of a problem it is: how many parents or working parents or parents who want to be working are being pushed out of the workforce because of child care,” Jones said of the poll by Public Opinion Strategies, which surveyed 800 registered Ohio voters in February.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Local employers are feeling the loss of that talent in the workforce, said Stephanie Keinath, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We cannot continue to accept the status quo,” she said. “Our families, our businesses and our communities deserve a child care system that not only allows the current workforce to have the supports they need to thrive, but equally as important is the impact on our future workforce if we cannot get this right.”

Impacts to workforce, economy

Record numbers of women left the workforce during the pandemic, resulting in nearly 2.23 million fewer women in the labor force in 2021 than in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year women began returning, but as of March the number of women not in the labor force was still 1.4 million higher than pre-pandemic.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Their labor force participation rate, which measures the percentage of the population either working or actively looking for work, was 57.1%, still short of the 57.8% February 2020 rate.

When women are not in the workforce the economy feels it.

A new study found that the child care crisis costs the nation $122 billion, and costs Ohio $3.9 billion, annually in lost earnings and productivity and reduced federal, state and local tax revenue.

“A combination of COVID-19 and insufficient policy action have now significantly worsened the crisis,” according to the February report by ReadyNation, a business executive group, and Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan non-profit made up of business executives, law enforcement leaders and retired admirals and generals.

“Almost two-thirds of parents of infants and toddlers facing child care struggles reported being late for work or leaving work early, and more than half reported being distracted at work or missing full days of work,” the report said. “An overwhelming 85 percent of primary caregivers said problems with child care hurt their efforts or time commitment at work.”

Costs hurt families

The impact of the child care crisis is broad, but is felt most acutely by parents, particularly single parents and those with multiple children.

Child care costs vary depending on where it is provided — in a center or a home — and the age of the child. Infant care is the most expensive, and school-age care is usually the least expensive.



Nationally the median annual child care price for one child ranged from $5,357 to $17,171, which is equivalent to 8% to 19.3% of median family income, according to the child care cost database.

In the 9-county Dayton/Hamilton/Middletown/Springfield region the share of median income that families pay for one child ranges from 4.8% for school-age center-based care in Champaign County to 19.8% for center-based infant care in Montgomery County, the data show.

Families in Butler County and Clark County are paying 15.9% and 15.6% of median income respectively for center-based infant care, the data show.

The median annual child care cost ranges from $3,620 for center-based school-age care in Champaign County to $14,189 for center-based infant care in Butler, Greene, Montgomery and Warren counties.

The second highest cost in the region was $12,452 for center-based toddler care in Butler, Greene, Montgomery and Warren counties

“When my kids were young it was a huge challenge to be able to pay for it. It’s always been expensive,” Jones said. “(Now) you have young families, women early in their careers, who just can’t afford it where the costs have gone up so dramatically.”

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

‘A domino effect’

Locally-funded efforts like Dayton and Montgomery County Preschool Promise have helped, as did the state’s 2021 decisions to expand eligibility for subsidized child care and use one-time child care stabilization funding from two federal COVID-relief bills to help child care centers and home-based providers remain open.

But only families with very low incomes — the annual limit is $32,703 for a family of three — are eligible for Ohio’s subsidies. Federal subsidies for Head Start don’t cover all eligible children and the COVID-relief-funded programs will end without an infusion of new money. President Joe Biden’s proposals to broadly expand public subsidies for child care and preschool have not been approved by Congress.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Eighty percent of those polled, including 87% of parents, said Ohio should increase funding for child care to increase access, affordability and quality, according to the Groundwork Ohio poll.

A broad range of advocacy groups, companies, health care and business organizations and others are calling for policy makers to provide more state and federal funding to expand child care capacity, get more 3- and 4-year-olds into preschool, and lower costs for families while raising pay for child care and preschool workers.

“The child care crisis facing our state is among the primary challenges in recruiting and retaining reliable and productive workers. Parents’ decisions about work are greatly impacted by whether they have access to quality, affordable child care. The harsh reality is, in our state, they all too often do not,” according to a March 29 letter to Ohio legislators signed by 39 of those organizations and companies in Ohio.

“Research shows these investments have a domino effect, with each step predictive of the next—from kindergarten readiness to third grade reading achievement to eighth grade math achievement to high school graduation to postsecondary attainment,” the letter said.

Early education is crucial

More than 62% of Ohio children are not ready when they get to kindergarten, nearly 64% are not demonstrating fourth-grade reading proficiency and 62% are not demonstrating eighth-grade math proficiency, according to data from the Ohio Department of Education and the National Assessment of Educational Progress compiled in Groundwork Ohio’s new Early Childhood Dashboard.

“Ohio is falling behind in school readiness. And a greater investment, access to child care and preschool options is necessary,” said State Rep. Willis Blackshear Jr., D-Dayton. “Investing in child care and preschool is an investment in the future.”



Child care centers and preschools teach kids the early academic skills that are necessary for success, help them be ready socially and emotionally for kindergarten and assist with intervention for children suffering from trauma or mental health issues, said Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Dayton and Montgomery County Preschool Promise.

“It is not babysitting. They are professionals,” said Tamara Lunan, care economy organizing director at the non-profit Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

‘Invest now or pay later’

Preschool Promise is a non-profit organization funded by Montgomery County, the city of Dayton and local philanthropists. Its partner programs provided early childhood services to 3,081 children last year in Dayton, Huber Heights, Jefferson Twp., Kettering, Mad River, Northridge, Trotwood-Madison and West Carrollton, to help kids get ready for kindergarten.

In fall 2021 72% of incoming kindergarteners who attended the Preschool Promise sites the previous year tested “approaching” or “demonstrating” readiness, compared to 55% of kids who did not attend a Preschool Promise program, according to the organization’s annual report.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield City Schools offers free preschool to three- and four-year-olds and also is getting positive results, said Superintendent Bob Hill.

“We have some pretty good data that the kids who stay with us perform well academically as they progress through the system,” Hill said.

White sees the child care crisis as an “invest now or pay later” predicament.

“We need to fix this for our current workforce and our future workforce,” she said. “If we do not invest in quality early learning for our kids we’re basically making the decision that we are going to spend more on remediation in K through 12, we’re going to spend more on juvenile justice, we’re going to spend more money on providing public benefits support on the back end if we don’t invest on the front end.”

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