Child care costs more than college in Washington; Democrats in Congress want to change this
Sydney Brown and Orion Donovan-Smith / The Spokesperson-Review
When Emily Gwinn decided she wanted to re-enter the workforce a year after the birth of her third child, a big question arose: who would look after her children while she was at work?
“You almost have to book child care, then find the job, then ask, can you pay for it when you get the job?” Gwinn, 41, said.
She said several factors complicate the process of finding quality child care, such as distance from work and rising gas prices, but none more than the cost of the child care itself.
In Washington, babysitting an infant under one year old costs an average of $ 14,554 per year, while college costs $ 6,830, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, DC think tank. In Idaho, where the minimum wage is the lowest in the country, daycares still cost as much as tuition, averaging $ 7,474 per year. Babysitting a 4-year-old costs an average of $ 11,051 per year in Washington and $ 6,454 in Idaho.
This is the problem the Democrats in Congress want to solve in a massive social spending program that is expected to cost around $ 2 trillion.
While details are likely to change as the party’s moderate and progressive factions negotiate the bill, in its current form the proposal would spend around $ 450 billion over a decade to increase the number of child care providers. children nationwide, increase the wages of their workers and reduce costs for parents.
It also aims to ensure universal access to preschool for children aged 3 and 4.
For Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who drafted a bill that underpins child care provisions, this is an opportunity to turn child care from the responsibility of individual parents to one. responsibility shared by taxpayers.
“Child care was an issue for families long before COVID hit,” Murray said in an interview. “People struggled with that individually. They didn’t say much, because they didn’t want their jobs to be in danger if they couldn’t find daycare, so often the kids were in. dangerous places where parents were just in tears every morning trying to figure out what to do that day. “
The senator, a former preschool teacher, has made affordable child care a priority since she was first elected to the Senate three decades ago. But the pandemic “just tore this grand opening,” she said, as schools and daycares closed and businesses struggled to hold back workers who had nowhere to send their children.
President Joe Biden has made Murray’s proposal part of his campaign platform, much of which his allies in Congress have turned into the Build Back Better Act. Democrats are slashing the bill from its original price of $ 3.5 trillion to appease party centrists and plan to use a process called budget reconciliation to bypass a Republican obstruction in the Senate.
According to Murray’s plan, families earning less than 150% of their state’s median income – $ 110,662 in Washington and $ 83,677 in Idaho – would never spend more than 7% of their income on child care , with federal grants paying for the rest. Those earning less than 75% of the median income – $ 55,331 in Washington and $ 41,838 in Idaho – would pay nothing.
Gwinn said child care expenses swallowed up half of her monthly income. Per month, she spends about $ 1,500 on her three children. If the bill passes, that would reduce that number to about $ 210 per month.
Costs in general have increased, the consumer price index – a common measure of inflation – 5.4% higher than a year ago, according to a report released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of United States. Child care expenses are no exception, and Gwinn said there are now fewer options for choosing a provider.
“Most of the time you run into waiting lists when looking for places for your kids,” Gwinn said.
In Spokane County, the number of providers rose from 277 to 245 between 2015 and 2020, according to advocacy group Child Care Aware. The Democrats’ plan also aims to keep more child care centers open, with grants helping families pay monthly costs and an extension of an existing tax credit that allows parents and providers to claim $ 8,000 per child, up to and including ‘to $ 16,000 per year.
Another provision would increase the salaries of daycare educators, who are among the lowest paid workers in the country, to match the incomes of elementary teachers with similar degrees. The median wage for child care workers in 2019 was $ 14.57 an hour in Washington, the second highest in the country, but only $ 10.08 in Idaho, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at UC Berkeley.
McKyndree Rogers, family support specialist at YWCA Spokane, said that even when she worked full time and lived with her partner, she had to find a part-time job to achieve a decent income, “because I’m not enough paid”.
“It’s 2 1/2 incomes in our household and it’s still not enough to pay the rent,” Rogers said.
Rogers said she stays in daycare because of her passion for early learning and supporting families, but can understand why many are leaving the industry.
Her annual income for childcare work is less than $ 30,000, she said, which is close to the national average for workers in the industry.
According to a 2018 study by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, early learning providers are on average 7.7 times more likely to experience poverty than teachers in the K-8 system. The disparity is worse for black and Latinx workers, according to the study.
These low wages have made it difficult for child care providers to retain workers. Vicki Greger, owner and director of the Spokane Child Development Center, said that although her company is licensed to care for 87 children, their capacity is only around 40 due to understaffing.
Without competitive salaries or benefits, applicants for these facilities are scarce, Greger said. The pandemic has exacerbated what was already a recruitment and retention problem in the industry, she said.
There have been five or six times, Greger said, where new hires only stay a day or two before they leave, sometimes for jobs with K-12 employers who can afford to offer vacations and a assurance.
“We have to find a way to make people want to be part of our work force,” said Greger. “Whether it’s more education, a living wage, it just means valuing the work they do.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Congress has stepped in to help with child care. The Lanham Act dating back to World War II provided free child care for working women from 1943 to 1946, when the war took many American men away from their jobs.
At the height of the program in 1944, an unprecedented 37% of women were employed. Today, around 57% of women are in the workforce, but such a federal program does not exist.
According to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families, only about 40% of child care needs are met.
The Spokane Child Development Center turns down three or four families every day because “there just isn’t room,” said Greger.
“The waiting lists are getting pretty intense,” Rogers said.
Greger said the Washington state legislature helped the child care system with the passage of the Fair Start for Kids Act of 2021, which expanded grants for providers and access to assistance. financial for families.
“I hope we can have those kinds of victories at the federal level,” said Greger.