Lack of support with child care costs leaves families struggling

Mallory Boyce

Mallory Boyce

Ever since my junior year of high school, I’ve worked at a child care center in the Grand Rapids area, my hometown. This means that for the past four summers, I’ve spent up to 40 hours a week surrounded by 60 to 75 mostly happy school-age kids. My daily tasks include playing all types of tag games, braiding hair, teaching conflict resolution, and insisting that Band-Aids are of no use unless one is actually bleeding. All of that, plus two free snacks a day? Not a bad gig.

In the noise, fun and controlled chaos of the day-to-day work, it’s easy to forget what my job means for my kids and their families. As a recent report by the League discusses, child care is important as a tool for both educating young children and allowing parents to contribute to economic development.

I am most often reminded of this significance during small talk with people I have only just met, like the woman cutting my hair, a coworker at a second job, or anyone else who might ask what I do for a living. If whoever is doing the asking happens to be the parent of young children, more often than not they wonder about the weekly price for a child of whatever age at the center where I work. I’ll give them a quick estimate, which has always been met with a sigh and a brief lament on the high cost of child care, the stress of trying to balance work with family life and general frustration with the system as a whole.

Kids at play snipTheir frustration is legitimate. While child care is essential for most working families, its cost can often be debilitating. Child Care Aware’s 2016 report on the price of child care in each state found that the price of center-based child care for two children in a family with married parents was 22% of Michigan’s median income for that family type. Lower that family’s income to the poverty line and the same care takes up 91% of their income. Infant care eats up nearly 50% of the median income for single parents, with care for two children coming in at 86%.

The League’s Making Ends Meet in Michigan report shows the cost of child care for every county, and it is a significant expense for families in every corner of the state. Such a large portion of a family’s monthly budget going toward child care leaves little left over for other essentials like housing, food and transportation.

Even with the eligibility threshold for receiving subsidized child care being raised from 125% to 130% of the federal poverty level in Michigan’s 2018 budget, Michigan’s threshold is still among the lowest in the nation. As of 2015, the Child Care Development Fund’s Policies Database Book of Tables showed only three other states with eligibility thresholds below 130% of the federal poverty line, with the majority of states’ thresholds ranging from 150% in South Carolina to 315% in North Dakota. With 22% of the state’s children living in poverty, Michigan can’t afford to be trailing the rest of the nation when it comes to providing affordable child care to families with low incomes.

There is much to strive for when it comes to ensuring that Michigan’s working families have access to affordable, quality care for their children. Further increasing the eligibility thresholds for receiving help with child care expenses and otherwise working to ensure that Michigan’s children are well taken care of will help craft both strong families and a strong workforce, bringing us one step closer to a Michigan where all children thrive.

— Mallory Boyce

Cuts to job training are misguided

It is enough to leave one speechless. The U.S. House just voted to completely eliminate funding for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) for one year. This, after both Barack Obama and John McCain mentioned in their 2008 Presidential campaigns how important it is to increase the skills of American workers in order to both cut down on unemployment and improve the country’s industrial strength.

WIA provides job search services for unemployed workers and links some of them with occupational training (such as No Worker Left Behind). It links welfare recipients with jobs and helps reduce their need for public assistance in the future. It provides case management and other support services for hard-to-employ individuals.

In addition to helping workers, WIA helps Michigan’s businesses, which depend on the skills of their employees to grow and compete. Despite massive unemployment, many employers often can’t find the skilled workers they need. Businesses often use WIA services to find workers with the appropriate skills, and WIA training helps to build a skilled labor pool.

WIA services are provided primarily through the Michigan Works! one-stop centers. Under the House-passed bill, Michigan will lose $78 million for these services, and Michigan Works! directors in Ingham and Livingston counties have said operations will need to be shut down if it becomes law. It is likely that many more directors are thinking the same thing.

The concern about the federal budget is understandable, but reducing investments in workforce training and education will inhibit Michigan’s fragile economic recovery. Preserving public investment in building the skills of Michigan’s workforce, on the other hand, will help to ensure that as the country recovers, Michigan will be able to grow and attract businesses that will provide long-term employment stability in the state.

One can be forgiven for assuming that WIA had bipartisan support. It was introduced by a Republican, co-sponsored by Democrats, passed by a Republican Congress, and signed by President Clinton.  Michigan’s entire Congressional delegation supported it regardless of party. Fighting joblessness and helping build work skills was seen as a proper activity for government by lawmakers across the spectrum.

But that was 1998. Despite past bipartisan support, all of Michigan’s Republicans voted to eliminate its funding this past week. (At least two of the U.S. Representatives justified their votes by saying that eliminating government spending on a system that helps people find jobs will actually help people find jobs, a questionable assumption.)

Fortunately, the Senate is very unlikely to eliminate all WIA funding, so at least some activities currently undertaken by the Michigan Works! one-stop centers will be preserved. But the fact that the U.S. House voted to eliminate it entirely should be cause for concern. It is no longer 1998.

— Peter Ruark