High cost of low pay for child care providers

The failure of the state and federal governments to address low wages for child care providers comes at a high price for the economy, the state budget, and ultimately for children and their families.

Nearly half of all child care workers in Michigan have incomes so low that they are eligible for and receive public supports, including Medicaid, MIChild, food assistance, or Earned Income Tax Credit benefits – at a cost exceeding $80 million annually according to a new study of the early childhood workforce.

Sadly, the adults who are charged with caring for our youngest children – our future workforce – are also struggling to make ends meets and facing the stresses of caring for their own children and families. The study finds that child care workers earned less in 2013 than animal caretakers, placing them near the bottom in Bureau of Labor Statistics rankings of occupations by mean annual salary along with food preparation workers, parking lot attendants, bartenders, hotel desk clerks, and laundry and dry-cleaning workers.

In both 1997 – when the first workforce study was done – and 2013, child care workers earned about two-thirds of preschool teachers’ pay, placing them barely above the poverty level for a family of three. And, preschool teachers were not faring much better. Even with a bachelor’s degree or higher, a typical preschool teacher earned substantially less than a kindergarten teacher. 

In 2013, the mean hourly wage of child care center workers in Michigan was $10.33.

The national study found that of early childhood workers earning less than $12.50 per hour:

  • 78% worried about having enough money to pay monthly bills; 
  • 74% worried about paying for routine health care; and 
  • over 60% struggled to pay their housing and transportation costs, and more than half worried about having enough food for their families. 

The results of such low pay are predictable. Fewer highly educated and skilled workers are attracted to the field, turnover rates are high, and parents have a hard time finding high quality, reliable care so they can work to support their families. Less easy to measure is the impact of the economic struggles of child care providers on the quality of care they can provide, and ultimately the cost to children.

The devaluing of child care as a profession is unacceptable given the now-clear evidence of the importance of the earliest years of life. The research is clear: As much as 90% of the architecture of the brain is developed in the first three years of life, and the effects can be long-lasting.

High-quality child care and early learning programs can help children gain the skills needed to achieve in school, with associated reductions in costs related to grade retention and special education. The long-term benefits include an increased likelihood of high school and college completion, higher adult earnings, lower incarceration rates, and reductions in the need for public assistance.

In addition, child care is a lynchpin in economic growth, with numerous studies showing that businesses benefit when their employees have reliable care with cost savings related to lower rates of absenteeism, turnover and tardiness, as well as increased employee productivity.

Given what we know about the long-term consequences for our children and the state’s economy, we can and must do better.

– Pat Sorenson

Moving from mass incarceration to mass education

Michigan needs to spend less on prisons and more on schools.

Between 1986 and 2013, Michigan’s spending on prisons jumped 147% when inflation is counted, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Meanwhile, per-pupil foundation spending in Michigan remains lower than before the Great Recession began.

“Even as states spend more on corrections, they are underinvesting in educating children and young adults, especially those in high-poverty neighborhoods. At least 30 states (including Michigan) are providing less general funding per student this year for K-12 schools than before the recession, after adjusting for inflation…’’ a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concludes.

Dennis Schrantz of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and Shaka Senghor of the Atonement Project at the League's recent policy forum.

Just last month, the League sponsored a policy forum on reducing mass incarceration. The upshot of the forum is that Michigan’s unusually long prison sentences mean that more dollars than necessary are being spent on corrections without improving public safety. And students are not getting what they need to avoid the “school to prison” pipeline.

Laura Sager, executive director of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, spoke about the need for a sentencing commission to examine Michigan’s sentencing structure with an eye on reducing the prison population.

Sager said that mandatory minimums and harsh penalties for drug offenses are not the cause of mass incarceration in Michigan. Unusually long prison sentences drive high costs without providing additional safety, she said. Judges set a minimum and maximum sentence but it is the state Parole Board has the ultimate decision on how much time a prisoner will serve after the minimum sentence is completed.Incarceration also costs $35,000 per inmate per year — more than a year of college at the University of Michigan.

A package of bills by Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, that could see action in lame-duck session next month, is aimed at reducing the time offenders spend in prison and jail. It would require “presumptive parole” for inmates who have served their minimum sentence unless there were “substantial and compelling” reasons to deny parole. The language of the package is still being negotiated, according to CAPPS, but the introduction is a very hopeful step.

Michigan’s parole system has long been criticized for allowing parole board members to pile on additional punishment beyond the judges’ sentences rather than look at the inmate’s prison record.

“The economic health of many low-income neighborhoods, which face disproportionately high incarceration rates, could particularly improve if states reordered their spending in such a way. States could use the freed-up funds in a number of ways, such as expanding access to high-quality preschool, reducing class sizes in high-poverty schools, and revising state funding formulas to invest more in high-poverty neighborhoods,’’ the Center’s report suggests.

Michigan spends $1.2 billion more on corrections in 2013 than it did in 1986, the report found. That’s a lot of money that could be better invested in our students and in our future.

– Judy Putnam

11% of Mich. vets in households receiving food aid

More than one in every 10 Michigan veterans lives in a household that receives food assistance, a new policy brief estimates.

The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released today in time for Veterans Day, is a reminder that thousands of struggling veterans use food assistance (formerly food stamps) to put food on the table.

The program, called Food Assistance Program in Michigan and SNAP at the federal level, helps 73,100 veterans — about 11% of Michigan’s vets. Michigan is one of 10 states where more than 10% of veterans are in households on food assistance.

“For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families,’’ the report states.

Food assistance has been a vital lifeline to many in Michigan as the state continues to recover from heavy job losses and falling income from the Great Recession.

Despite high unemployment and stagnating poverty, Michigan policymakers have made it harder rather than easier to get food assistance:

  • For a relatively small amount of additional heating assistance, Michigan could have opted to keep a ‘heat and eat’ provision that secured extra federal food assistance to families needing help with utilities. Only four states, including Michigan, of 16 using this option declined to continue by increasing help with utilities.
  • Michigan is bucking the trend nationwide by requiring a harsh food asset test that is not required by the federal government. Considering that the benefits are 100% federally paid, it’s unnecessary for Michigan to make it harder for veterans and others to access food assistance.

As policymakers continue to look for ways to tighten eligibility for public assistance in Michigan, it’s a good reminder that among those being harmed are veterans, who deserve help when they need it in return for the sacrifices they have made.

– Judy Putnam

 

 

Ask Your Candidates

To address our crumbling roads, lawmakers are offering proposals ranging from increasing the sales tax, creating a wholesale tax on gas, raising vehicle registration fees, or diverting current sales tax revenue to road maintenance. Any type of tax increase, especially to the sales tax, will have a disproportionate effect on individuals earning low wages.

Do you support increased or new revenue to address Michigan’s crumbling road and infrastructure? Would you support increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit or other tax credit to help offset the burden on people earning low wages?

Since the 1970s, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has been considered a significant poverty reduction tool that encourages individuals to work. In 2006, Michigan created its own state-level EITC based on 20% of the federal tax credit. The governor and state lawmakers scaled back the EITC to 6% in 2011.

Would you support restoring the state-level EITC to 20% of the federal tax credit?

3 Michigan is one of only seven states that continue to rely on a flat income tax rather than a graduated income tax. States with graduated income tax structures tax at higher rates as income rises making it a more modern and equitable system.

Would you support reforming Michigan’s income tax structure from a flat income tax rate to a graduated one?

Sales taxes are typically considered to be the most regressive type of tax costing individuals earning low wages a larger proportion of their income compared to wealthier individuals. Expanding the sales tax to apply to services can serve to both increase revenue and make the sales tax less regressive. Even still, the sales tax will remain regressive, which is the reason some states offer sales tax credits to provide relief for individuals who earn the least.

Would you support extending the state’s sale tax to services with a sales tax credit for filers with low wages?

The Michigan Homestead Property Tax Credit (HPTC) is a refundable credit available to eligible Michigan residents who pay high property taxes or rent in relation to their income. In 2011, it was eliminated for many middle-class families, veterans, and seniors whose total household resources were over $50,000 or the taxable value on their homes was over $135,000.

Would you support restoring the HPTC to provide relief to moderate-income taxpayers?

6 Out of 16 states offering families additional heating assistance to qualify for additional food benefits, Michigan was one of four that declined to add dollars to keep the program going when the rules changed. That means an average loss of $76 a month in food benefits for 150,000 families. It will take only $3.1 million to pull down $137 million in extra federal food assistance for these Michigan families.

Do you favor spending $3 million in the ‘heat and eat’ option to draw additional food assistance?

Michigan hasn’t adjusted its child care subsidy eligibility since 2003 even though spending has fallen dramatically. As a result, only working families in poverty or living just above poverty qualify.

Should Michigan expand its child care program back to 150 percent (just under $30,000 for a family of three) of poverty?

8 Two recent federal audits found that Michigan child care centers and homes visited without prior notification were not complying with all state licensing requirements related to the health and safety of children, including required criminal record and protective services checks of caregivers. The auditors concluded that the state has too few child care inspectors (known as child care licensing consultants) to ensure adequate oversight of child care homes and centers, with caseload ratios more than three times the recommended ratio of 1:50.

Would you support the appropriation of state funds to increase the number of child care inspectors and improve the state’s ability to oversee compliance with basic health and safety requirements in state law and policy?

9 Children living in families that must rely temporarily on state income assistance live in increasingly deep poverty as a result of the very low payments provided by the state (a maximum of $492 per month for a family of three through the Family Independence Program). Michigan used to provide a one-time payment to all school-age children from families receiving FIP to ensure that children could at least start the school year with a decent set of clothes. Since 2011, the school clothing allowance has been restricted to only those children living with grandparents or other caretakers who do not receive cash assistance.

Would you support the restoration of a school clothing allowance for all school-age children living in families receiving FIP benefits?

10 Over one-third or 35,000 Michigan third- graders did not demonstrate proficiency in reading in 2013. A House bill would require that third-graders who are not proficient in reading as measured by the state test would be required to repeat the grade at least once and no more than twice. Alternate tests and portfolios may be used to document reading skills but the school superintendent would make the final decision. Critics contend research on retention documents a higher likelihood of drop-out for retained students while supporters of retention decry the negative impact of social promotion.

Would you support the retention of Michigan third-graders who are not reading at grade level?

11 Child poverty in Michigan has escalated by almost 40% over the last 25 years. Almost one of every four children in the state lives in a family with income below the poverty level: $19,000 for a family of three and $24,000 for a family of four. Several policy initiatives to alleviate child poverty have been suggested, such as raising the minimum wage to $10.10—closer to its value in the 1960s and indexing it to inflation, reinstating the state Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal EITC and raising the child care subsidy and eligibility so parents earning low wages can have access to child care.

Would you support any of these initiatives?

12 Dental cavities remain the No.1 chronic disease in children, despite being preventable with proper dental care. In Michigan, 27% of third-graders have untreated disease; in the Detroit area, the percentage increases to 42%. The Healthy Kids Dental program, a partnership between Delta Dental and the state for Medicaid-eligible children, has greatly increased access to dental care for those covered. The program is available in all counties except Kent, Oakland and Wayne.  All Michigan children should have access to this program. The estimated state investment required is about $22 million.

Would you support statewide expansion of Healthy Kids Dental as a priority?

13 Michigan has been a leader in investments in preschool programs for 4-year-olds, but funding for families with infants and toddlers living in poverty or near poverty has declined—despite scientific evidence that the first three years of life are when children’s brains are growing most rapidly, affecting their lifelong development, learning and achievement.

Would you support additional state funds for proven programs for parents of very young children, including home visiting and parenting programs?

14 Michigan currently has nine coal-fired electricity generating units, with health-related costs associated with emissions from these facilities totaling $1.5 billion annually. These health issues range from asthma to cancer, and heart and lung disease, with people of color and those who are economically vulnerable being the most likely to suffer from these health complications.

Would you support transitioning from coal to clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power to reduce pollution and improve the health of Michiganians?

15 Workers who are laid off, or who work in low-paying jobs, can often improve their financial situation by building skills at a community college or university. However, Michigan’s financial aid grants are not available to workers who have been out of high school more than 10 years. There is discussion in the Legislature of reinstating two financial aid grants that were discontinued several years ago that would help older workers go back to school and get a degree (the Adult Part Time Grant and the Educational Opportunity Grant).

Would you support the reinstatement of the Adult Part Time Grant and the Educational Opportunity Grant to help older workers get the skills they need for jobs that will support their families?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small problems get big with misplaced priorities

In kindergarten classrooms in one Michigan school district, work tables are now cleaned only weekly instead of daily due to severe budget cuts that have reduced cleaning staff and supplies. Teachers must buy their own cleaners and wash the tables to maintain sanitary conditions for the youngest students

The dirty tables was one of the anecdotes offered about Michigan’s misguided spending priorities during a news conference held at the Capitol this morning by Priorities Michigan. (more…)

Census numbers tell of stagnancy and slow recovery

Today is the big day that comes each year: the release of American Community Survey figures on income and poverty.

Ready for some numbers?

Michigan’s household median income in 2013 ($48,273) was a bit higher than in 2012, but is nearly $1,000 lower than in 2009. The income bracket that grew the largest from 2009 to 2013 was the share of Michigan households who make under $10,000 a year. The only other income bracket with a significant share increase was households making more than $200,000 a year. These numbers taken together suggest that the slow economic recovery in Michigan is primarily benefiting those at higher incomes. (more…)

Back to school: Are children ready to learn?

For children to succeed in school, they must go to school “ready to learn” –  rested, fed and healthy. But how many children will start the school year with a toothache or other dental problem?

According to the Department of Community Health’s 2011 -2012 Count Your Smiles survey, the number is likely pretty high. (more…)

State Financial Aid Leaves Adult Learners Behind

 

Michigan needs to revamp its financial aid system to ensure that adult learners can build their skills, get a job and become economically secure.

Michigan’s job market is changing. For decades, many individuals became employed in the manufacturing sector immediately after graduating from high school at age 18, built up their skills on the job, and attained a livable wage with which they could support their families and retire with a pension.

Today, rather than teaching needed occupational skills on the job from “square one,” most employers who pay a livable wage expect their new hires to already possess those skills at some level. Sometimes prior experience is sufficient, but for many workers the attainment of required skills must be signified by a recognized credential such as a degree, license or certificate. These credentials are most often attained through completion of a postsecondary program at a community college, technical school or university.

Many workers find themselves needing to acquire new marketable skills with the expectation that doing so will lead to re-employment, higher pay or more job security. Some such workers may have been laid off, others may be trapped in low-wage jobs, and still others may be re-entering the workforce after an extended time as full-time homemakers. Many such individuals do not possess a postsecondary credential and will have a difficult time in the labor market (see Appendix 1).

 

Unfortunately, tuition has increased at community colleges by 31%, though it still compares favorably to other states. Universities increased by 49% since 2005, and Michigan’s public university tuition is the sixth-highest in the nation (Fig. 1). Due to the rising costs, these older workers often need financial aid to help pay for their training. Each year, more than 100,000 (and sometimes more than 150,000) individuals over age 30 in Michigan fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is also used to determine eligibility for state as well as federal aid. (Fig. 2).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem

The decision to get trained in new skills is often made more than 10 years after graduation from high school. While state financial aid helps many students of traditional college age, there are no state financial aid programs to help students attend public community colleges or universities if they have been out of high school for more than 10 years. Two of the three existing grant programs explicitly exclude such individuals from eligibility, and the third is available only to those attending a private, not-for-profit institution:

Tuition Incentive Program: Eligibility rules require applicants to apply prior to high school or GED completion and before the 20th birthday, and the award must be used within 10 years of high school or GED completion—effectively preventing anyone older than age 28-30 from using the award.

Michigan Competitive Scholarship: Workers are ineligible if they are out of high school for more than 10 years, preventing students who graduated “on time” at age 18 from using the award once they pass age 28.

Michigan Tuition Grant: Workers and parents of any age are eligible, but their postsecondary education must be at a private not-for-profit institution. It is not available for use at community colleges, which offer programs specifically designed for students who are working or raising families (Fig. 3).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, none of the three current grant programs are available to students enrolled less than half time or who are in short-term occupational programs. Students who are juggling employment, family and school must often go less than half time or enroll in a short-term program due to having to work and care for family members. As discussed in a recent paper by the Working Poor Families Project, while low-income adult students are likely to need employment to support their families and finance their education, working more than a few hours at a job can often result in lower grades and even dropping out. Not having financial aid may discourage adult learners from going to school less than half-time.1

In 2010, the Legislature eliminated a number of grant programs that were available to adult learners: the Adult Part-Time Grant, the Michigan Educational Opportunity Grant, the Michigan Nursing Scholarship and Work-Study. This may have been a factor in the 31% decline in FAFSA applicants age 30 and over for school year 2013-14. (See Appendicies 2 and 3).

It should be pointed out that there are employer-sponsored training programs in some areas of the state that are of low cost or no cost at all to the student. Michigan supports such programs through its Skilled Trades Training Fund and there are other programs available in some areas as well. However, for older working students who are in non-employer-based programs at community colleges and universities, there is no state financial aid available.

Policy Recommendations

Michigan should do the following to make it easier for adult learners to receive financial aid:

1.  Make need-based grants available to older workers by

a) reauthorizing funding for either the Adult Part-Time Grant or the Educational Opportunity Grant, both of which were specifically designed to serve adult learners in a wide variety of circumstances, or

b) modifying the eligibility rules of the Michigan Competitive Scholarship and/or the Tuition Incentive Program to allow older workers to qualify and to allow the money to be used for less than half time enrollment or for short-term occupational programs.

2. Implement a Work-Study program that subsidizes academically relevant work for low-income adult students while paying a livable wage. Studies show that working students are less likely to drop out or suffer academic setbacks if their work is related to their courses of study. Although the traditional Work-Study program was ended in 2010, Michigan could replace it with a carefully targeted program that connects employment to academics. (For more information, see the Working Poor Families Project paper Earn to Learn: How States Can Reimagine and Reinvest in Work-Study to Help Low-Income Adults Pay for College, Enhance Their Academic Studies.)2 

Conclusion

Helping older workers attain new skills leading to in-demand jobs will help grow Michigan’s economy. With the layoffs in manufacturing and other sectors, many workers with families are unemployed, under­employed or earning less than what they used to. This results in less tax revenue for the state and less economic stability for the families. Michigan should provide grants that enable working parents to get skilled jobs. It is good workforce development.

Endnotes

  1. Alstadt, D., Earn to Learn: How States Can Reimagine And Reinvest In Work-Study To Help Low-Income Adults Pay For College, Enhance Their Academic Studies, And Prepare For Post-College Careers, The Working Poor Families Project. Washington, DC: 2014. (http://www.workingpoorfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/WPFP-Spring-2014-Brief.pdf, accessed April 18, 2014)
  2. Ibid.

 

 

 

Education Funding Lags in Michigan

 

State budget balancing act

As Michigan lawmakers head off to Mackinac Island for the annual Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce policy conference, they are scrambling to resolve several big ticket issues that have slowed down the budget process and could reduce the amount of money available for services critical to our state’s economic development.

First is how best to fund much-needed improvements in Michigan roads, bridges and public transit. The governor wants at least $1.3 billion a year for improvements while some think that isn’t enough. There is little controversy that something needs to be done, but much disagreement on how to pay for it. (more…)

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