6 ways to help working parents in Michigan afford child care

Kids squeal and chase after soap bubbles as teacher Travis Nagler blows through a plastic wand at a daycare center on the campus of Jackson National Life Insurance Co. near Lansing. SLIDESHOW: Click or swipe for a brief tour of daycare in Michigan (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

Diandre Birkett scoops out the insides of a pumpkin as two toddlers study the seeds at the Jackson National daycare center. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

Girls read independently in a classroom at a childcare center that Jackson National opened in 2000. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

Victoria VanHolder helps kids identify the date on a calendar at the child care center on the campus of Jackson National Life Insurance Co. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

Katharine Stevens, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank, argues that businesses have an important stake in ensuring their workers have access to affordable child care.

On a recent weekday morning, a group of toddlers squealed and chased after soap bubbles in their classroom at a daycare center on the campus of Jackson National Life Insurance Co., near Lansing.

Down the hall, older children worked on identifying the date on a calendar. In one room, toddlers watched their teacher scoop out the slimy insides of a pumpkin and spread them on a tray. In another, kids attempted to act out a play with hand puppets.

Just up the road, many of their parents were settling into a workday at Jackson’s corporate headquarters. The company has offered child care in a standalone building on its main campus and discounted tuition as an employee benefit since the company consolidated its Lansing workforce 17 years ago.

Today, 94 children are enrolled at Jackson’s child development center — operated by Portland, Ore.-based chain KinderCare Education LLC — on a daily basis, according to the company. Nearly 63 percent of them are children of Jackson employees.

Opening a daycare center on a corporate campus is one way some Michigan companies are addressing what they say is a barrier to attracting and keeping good employees: Access to affordable child care.

The private sector is mobilizing on the issue in large part because more companies are viewing child care as a means to keep valuable workers who are more productive and less likely to miss work because they can’t find someone to take care of their kids. Companies that provide child care also say it’s something they can put on the table when recruiting prospective employees, especially younger ones. At the same time, research suggests that providing high-quality child care at younger ages helps improve children’s readiness for school.

Yet child care is often inaccessible to parents, often due to availability (many centers have wait lists) or cost.

The Michigan Association of United Ways, in a 2017 study of the state’s working poor — referred to as “ALICE,” for “asset-limited, income-constrained but employed” — estimated the bare-minimum cost of childcare in 2015 for a two-parent family with an infant and a preschooler was $1,108 per month. Full-time care for an infant in Michigan can cost nearly $10,000 per year on average, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

As many as 40 percent of Michigan’s 3.8 million households don’t earn enough to cover basic necessities, the ALICE study found. At the same time, Michigan business groups have complained for years that they are unable to fill skilled positions in the state.

“If you would have told me five years ago that we would be focused on the issues of child care, transportation and housing, I don’t think I would have believed you,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, a trade group that represents more than 25,000 businesses across the state.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will host a legislative panel discussion on the topic Monday, in conjunction with Talent 2025, a West Michigan-based business coalition focused on talent development, attraction and retention strategies.

Their goal: Energize business leaders around this issue, catch the attention of policymakers in Lansing and move the needle on collaborative solutions.

“If we get this right, we can do a better job of attracting and retaining the talent that our employers need, and parents benefit a whole lot when they have good places for their kids,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the Grand Rapids chamber.

“We don’t want to just have a nice meeting,” Johnston said. “One of the things we need to do is rally the business community around it, because there hasn’t been as strong of advocacy on this.”

Katharine Stevens, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute ‒ a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Washington ‒ wrote a report in June for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that offered business leaders suggested ways to promote the need for high-quality child care.

Stevens, whose project was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is scheduled to speak at the Grand Rapids chamber’s event. What follows are some suggestions for helping working parents afford high-quality child care.

Three things employers can do

1. Make child care a business priority

In her report, Stevens encourages business leaders to form coalitions around increasing access to child care, list child care as a legislative priority and pen op-eds as part of an organized media campaign to drum up public financial support and get more businesses engaged in the cause.

“It’s not something the business community can solve alone,” said Stevens, adding that corporate leaders as a group can play a powerful role in helping states rethink how they spend taxpayer dollars geared toward children.

“Bringing that kind of strategic thinking — identifying what’s critical and thinking about how to allocate scarce resources — is something that the business community is really well-suited to do,” she said.

2. Donate money

Companies can direct their philanthropic efforts toward child care in their communities — everything from donating books and materials to contributing to tuition scholarship programs, Stevens said.

Ready for School, a data-driven community initiative that focuses on improving early childhood outcomes in parts of Ottawa and Allegan counties, created a financial aid program for tuition-based programs.

Since 2011, more than $1.2 million has been invested into preschool scholarships — mostly from individuals and small family foundations, but also from corporations — in Holland and Zeeland in Ottawa County and Hamilton in Allegan County, said Donna Lowry, president and CEO of Ready for School. Average scholarships are about $500 per semester, or $1,000 a year, Lowry said.

3. Start a child care center on the corporate campus

It’s an expensive undertaking, but Stevens calls it leading by example in her report.

At Jackson National Life, the idea behind the child care center was to create a company culture that promotes work-life balance, said Dana Rapier, a vice president in the office of the chief operating officer and interim chief human resources officer at Jackson.

“It’s trying to reduce the stress so that when workers come to work, they are happy, they’re engaged,” said Rapier, who said Jackson uses onsite child care as a recruiting tool. “Business has an opportunity to figure that out.”

Onsite child care has worked so well for Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert’s employees at Quicken Loans Inc., that Gilbert’s family of companies is considering expanding not only the existing daycare center on the second floor of the former Compuware Corp. headquarters building downtown, but also to other Gilbert-owned developments in the city, said Andrew Leber, vice president of hospitality for real estate arm Bedrock LLC.

Bedrock inherited the child care center operated by Watertown, Mass.-based chain Bright Horizons Family Solutions when it and Detroit-based Meridian Health bought the building, now dubbed One Campus Martius, in 2014.

“We find that that’s going to be an incredible offering to attract not only great tenants, but also to offer an amenity to our team,” Leber said. “If we can help you in that fashion, I think that’s a partnership that an employer and an employee see (as) valuable.”

Neither Jackson nor Bedrock would disclose how much they spend on their facilities.

Three things Lansing can do

State Sen. Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, will be a panelist during the Grand Rapids chamber’s event. He said he is open to discussing the issue in Lansing, though he is still learning about possible solutions on how the state can, or should, help.

“I’m sure there’s going to be policy proposed. I’m sure there’s going to be appropriations needed,” MacGregor said. “It’s a learning process for me, too.”

1. Make more families eligible for child care subsidies.

Michigan subsidizes child care for its poorest families, but the program — known as Child Development and Care, or CDC — has some of the tightest income requirements in the nation, leaving many lower-income families unable to qualify for aid.

“When employees earn just a little bit more money, they’re falling off this cliff” of being able to qualify for the subsidy, said Nancy Lindman, public policy director for the Michigan Association of United Ways, which published the ALICE report.

“There’s a real opportunity for us in Michigan to do better in terms of our child care subsidies,” Lindman said. “It would stabilize ALICE households in the workforce.”

2. Increase the reimbursement rate to child care providers

Michigan also is close to last among states in the amount it reimburses child care providers for care, based on a child’s age.

Most of the costs to run a center-based child care facility are related to staff, said Stephen Kramer, president of Bright Horizons, which operates child care centers across the U.S. and in a few other countries. A shortage of infant care, he said, is partly based on this problem because more employees are required to care for babies on a per-child basis than are needed for, say, 3-year-olds.

“We have always believed that in order to make that affordable to families, there needs to be a third-party support,” Kramer said. “That can come through government, that can come through employers, but the idea that a family can pay the full amount of tuition is a lot for families.”

3. Streamline regulation

Multiple state agencies are tasked with regulating some aspects of child care, said Kevin Stotts, president of Grand Rapids-based coalition Talent 2025.

The application process could be simpler for families to qualify for the state subsidy program, he said. Steps also could be taken to simplify the regulatory process for providers, though Stotts did not yet have specific ideas about how.

Licensing requirements and other regulations appear to have created a supply and demand problem in accessing child care, said Fowler, of SBAM.

“Have we tightened it down so much that it isn’t a workable business model?” he said. “At some point, you have to be able to make money as a child care provider or nobody’s going to do it. That’s what needs to be looked at.”

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Mon, 10/23/2017 - 8:39am

A fourth thing that Lansing could do - stop trying to play doctor to every woman. Get out of the business of trying to abolish women's resource centers for family planning, and stop obstructing access to birth control and abortion.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 8:44am

“I’m sure there’s going to be policy proposed. I’m sure there’s going to be appropriations needed,” MacGregor said. “It’s a learning process for me, too.”

So, when did Lansing gain the authority to take from one class of Michiganian and give to another?

I would absolutely love to hear a REPUBLICAN state senator attempt to explain exactly where it gained that power.

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 1:11pm

Politicians are addicted to OPM. Democrats, Republicans, doesn't matter. OPM is the fuel that keeps them in office, bolstered by the fact that few understand the limitations on government outlined in the Constitution.

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 4:31pm

I have an idea....why don't parents take care of their own children....Isn't that a novel idea....Why does every other tax payer have to support parents that want to work in order to have enough money to send them to child care? They had the children...not me....it's their responsibility to take care of them. When and why did Gov't become every child's nanny?

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 3:05pm

Did you not read, or not understand the article, Jess? Every citizen in Michigan, every business in Michigan suffers because Lansing has been cheap with childcare while they dole out billions in corporate tax subsidies. Just as SNAP benefits produce $1.40 in GDP growth for every $1 spent, affordable childcare could bring economic growth to Michigan, which helps all residents.

I am just curious, Jess and Rick... Why do you think Michigan is the butt of every rustbelt joke? Why do you think 10 million people have left our state in the past 40 years? Is it "tax and spend" by Democrats in Lansing? Hardly. Michigan has one of the lowest gas taxes... and the worst roads. State support for university has been cut - and tuition is rising. Film Tax Credits were gutted - and tens of thousands of jobs and creative people left the state.

We've seen what the "slash and burn the budget" and "race to the bottom of wages and standard of living" has done to Michigan. Our state has lost millions of potential residents, and business struggle to attract talent to a state that is hostile to transit, childcare, and education. But yeah, let's cut taxes for Ford & GM one more time, and watch them use the savings to build more factories in Mexico!

Ron Lemke
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 9:09am

In 1979 I received a call from Chicago from a family with 5 children they were looking for a Parent Helper. The family had visited Alpena and were given my name. Among other responsibilities I did Vocational Job Placement. I sent a young lady there for a year and when she was ready to leave They called to hire another person. I said give me a few names of others you know so they could have friends from Alpena near by. The lady sent me a number of manes and I sent 7 the next year. That was almost 40 years ago and I got requests from almost 3000 families. I place 600 year round and summer. One would assume that all these families were very wealthy not always the case. I had 300 out in the Chicago area in 20 years and in over a dozen different states. The need for quality child care is staggering. I know of families paying over $ 20,000 a year for day care in the cities. Business need to step up and others as well to meet this very important need. I have many thoughts on it. Call me Ron Lemke 989 356 3077. I am retired and have time to talk about this issue. Peace Ron Lemke

Bob McNabb
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:43pm

As a 71 year-old chair of a child care task force in very rural Benzie County, the smallest county in the state, I challenge Bridge Magazine to explore doing an article about just how dire the child care issue is out in this beautiful place we call home and you may sometimes visit. We have almost no major employers outside government, senior care and healthcare. The task of making our employers and most residents wake up to the situation is proving to be a daunting task without much hope in the near future. Our legislators seem largely ignorant of the situation. Our employers scramble for help. Our families face chaos trying to survive. Our school populations are collapsing because families can't afford to live here. The services they provide go with them. The state's child care certification process and rules are absurdly detailed, poorly and unevenly administered, and destroys any hope of making any sort of business proposition foolish at best. Check it out. bob@baysideprintinginc.com

Reese Scripture
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 3:52pm

"The private sector IS mobilizing"? What, it took them 30 plus years to figure this out? Employer provided child care as smart way to attract and retain employees isn't a new concept, not even close. Jump into the way back machine to the late 80s/early 90s (and probably before, but that's when I entered the adult workforce) and there is plenty of literature on this topic. It is one of the 900 reasons I decided children were not for me as I never wanted to have to grapple with the daily struggle between career and family. But I remember thinking...well at least they have figured out it is important for many reasons INCLUDING the business bottom line - and the next generation of women will have an easier time of it...HAH was I a naive idiot or what? Almost 30 years later and according to the article, Michigan businesses are just now mobilizing on this? That. Is. Crazy. Maybe if more of the businesses in our state had adopted a more progressive attitude about child-care earlier we would have been more competitive for talent and captured some of those vital synergies that made other states and cities so economically successful in the last 20 years.

Gerry Donaldson
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 3:55pm

I usually self identify as a Progressive, but a part of me says this is another example of corporate welfare. Taxpayers pick up the tab for child care rather than employers paying adequate wages so employees can afford child care.

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 3:14pm

State Childcare subsidies are perhaps at most, <1% of a factor for a company determining wages. A bigger subsidy by the state won't cause employers to slash wages. It will, however, increase the labor force. There is a labor shortage right now, so Michigan is losing GDP growth because of lack of workers.

Kids today also need more than just an overworked house daycare that can charge less than $10 per hour per child. Quality childcare that increases outcomes for kids, costs more, but it pays off in the long run. Personally, I'd rather spend $10,000 per year when the kids are young, and put them on a good path, than do what we do right now, which is pay $50,000 per year to warehouse unsuccessful grown children in our prisons.

But hey, you know, plenty of security guard jobs, right? Too bad parents don't have childcare to go be guards over the kids who didn't get childcare 20 years ago.

Paul Jordan
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 4:43pm

Quality child care is important not only for the benefits to the children but also to the businesses for which their parents work.
Of course, the thought creeps in that if it is really that important to the businesses perhaps they might actually want to pay for it themselves. Once upon a time, it was assumed that businesses would provide training in the basic skills that their employees needed to do their work. No more. Now businesses look to the public educational system to provide these skills at public expense. In addition, businesses that don't provide a living wage also expect tax payers to provide their employees with public health insurance and food assistance. All of these things amount to a public subsidy for the profit of their private businesses.
We have a right to expect businesses to pay their fair share in taxes in exchange for all of the benefits that tax payers provide them.

Former State Rep
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:07pm

You nailed it. Perfectly stated.

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 2:33am


Do you have any understanding of business? Do you think they print money? Haven't you learned that they have nothing if the customers do find sufficient value for the price? Do you even understand that profit is what is left after all wages and other costs are paid, any investment for the future such as building, research, etc, are paid for, taxes are paid? Do you understand that if a business like a grocery store with a profit margin of 1 or 2 % has to sell $99 for every added dollar you want them to pay for out of profits?
To bad they didn't teach you and others in school what it takes for a business to survive even before they do make a profit, and that there is a high percentage of businesses that fail and those operating the businesses loose all that was invested in that business.

I don't if you work for the government, a not for profit, or even a private businesses but when costs go up they have provide value every day to sell to customers to pay for those added costs. It is not like the government that doesn't have to prove itself every day and will still gather the taxes.

I apologize if I offend with my harsh comments, but it is tiring to heard how cheap and irresponsible 'business' is when ever someone comes up with some idea for spending other people's money with out appreciation of what it take to earn that money they want to spend.

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 5:45am

Paul- You need a lesson on business economics. Businesses pay more than their fair share in taxes, because in effect, the consumer pays the business tax. As for Living Wages or $15 Minimum Wage, they don't work.....Who are you to choose who loses a job when expenses increase for businesses?!

Focus should be on Individual Responsibility....from family to education. We are experiencing a rapid growth of Comfortable Poverty in America. This demographic has decimated parts or rural and most of Residential Inner Cities like Detroit. Don't blame businesses, blame government that is keeping many people fat, happy, and ignorant.

John Saari
Sun, 10/29/2017 - 8:02am

I am smelling revolution. Maybe a tax protest, maybe a vote boycott, maybe stuff the voting box. The Fed and State governments have grown into a wasteful, inefficient, dishonest, and often crooked bureaucracy.

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 2:13am

Here we go again, throw more of other people's money at an issue without describing results, without performance metrics, without accountability.
What most disappoints me is that the people promoting this are so narrow in their purpose that can’t see beyond the money they want. We hear regularly about how disappointing the learning performance of the kids in our schools, why don’t these people focus on trying to help improve all the children’s learning success rather than only spending money on those who want/need someone to be responsible for their children when the parent(s) are away?
Why not use the school facilities we have and add learning time before school or after school? Why not spend this level of money for homework sessions, for tutoring session, for special emphasis sessions, that can be made available to all students not just those that can’t be home alone when the school day ends? We hear about those student that go on to college commonly have to take remedial class [for no credit] before they can take the curriculum required classes, why not use this kind of money for after/before school remedial classes so when they graduate they will be at the necessary learning level?
By the way, these added classes at the current school facilities would match up with the vast majority of time this proposed child ‘babysitting’ would be needed.
Which is better improving student learning or simply paying for a ‘babysitter’?

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 6:02am

We don't need more government policy or any effort to transfer my money to others for childcare services. Let's keep the emphasis and responsibility on the parent from the point of family planning to executing family care.

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 1:52pm

Is it so hard to admit that some jobs or skill sets justify paying up (not specifying who pays) for child care but a lot do not? If the skills are in demand and of scarcity isn't it reasonable to believe that the individual needing childcare and the business needing the skill in question will come to a logical solution? Government solutions are often to be paying $10 per hour for childcare so the parent can go to an $8 hr job.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 10/29/2017 - 11:44am

If families cannot afford child care, wages are less than cost + food, shelter etc., then yes they shouldn't have kids. Perhaps more access to abortion clinics, castration and/or orphanages would be more effective. But if mothers can't afford child care then they can't work. Often they try to work and/or go to school, but then lose their jobs/quit school. Yes everyone should be responsible for their own actions. The question is what kind of country to we want. Access to affordable child care (and health care) will benefit the many including businesses. So many here only seem to care about their piece of the pie, screw everyone else. And no I don't need affordable child care, but I know many who do.

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 3:04am

The question is what do you want. The choice seems to be between paying a 'babysitter,' even for those into high school, or extend the use of school facilities for special learning classes for the students. I think the people would see more value for their money for things that improve learning.

Off Shift
Mon, 10/30/2017 - 8:16pm

It would be helpful if articles also explored the lack of care available to us who work alternate shifts.