Opinion | Military leaders set example for child care in Michigan
If you’re a working parent who isn’t serving in the military, here’s some news that might make you wish you were. Now, about 200,000 children of service members are in high-quality child care and preschool programs while their folks are at work. Parents with combined incomes of $57,000 pay a little over $5,000 a year for each child - far less than the $7,000 to $10,000 cost of care that civilian Michigan parents will pay.
If that seems like a big number, you’re right. Citing data from Child Care Aware, the Children’s Leadership Council of Michigan notes the annual cost of center-based care for an infant in a typical Michigan community is only a little less than the tuition you’d pay for a year of public college.
Equally troubling, about 185,000 infants and toddlers need child care in Michigan, but there are only 86,000 slots available in the highly rated child care centers.
These facts are top-of-mind for both of us with the release of a new ReadyNation report that documents the enormous financial impact of the nation’s infant and toddler child care crisis on families, employers and taxpayers. If you run a business or non-profit organization anywhere in the country, you’ll be interested to know that employers lose about $13 billion annually due to revenue reductions, lost productivity, recruiting and training costs as a result of the child care challenges faced by their employees.
If you’re one of those working parents who struggles to find affordable care, you already know what the report says about the stress of missing work, missing out on promotions, and being distracted because you’re worried about your infant or toddler.
What’s especially clear in the report is that parents are apt to be far more productive on the job if they aren’t worried about the welfare of their kids. That’s part of the military’s rationale for investing so significantly in its child care and preschool infrastructure.
Even better – or more frustrating if you head out to work in a suit as opposed to a uniform – this child care is a far cry from simple babysitting. It’s staffed by experienced educators who nurture physical, social and cognitive development to help children develop crucial social-emotional skills. These skills become especially important as children transition to preschool programs that help them become truly “ready-to-learn” when they start school.
These benefits are well known to Michigan’s child care advocates who celebrated in 2018 when lawmakers in Washington essentially doubled funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which allows states to subsidize child care to help more parents work or attend a job training or educational program.
Unfortunately there’s a key challenge to ensuring this program benefits a sufficient number of children and families: the eligibility level, set by states, that determines how many parents are eligible for support. Right now here in Michigan the funds are available only to families earning up to 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Which means tens of thousands of parents working in industries from retail to hospitality to the trades, for example, cannot qualify for the funding.
Early childhood advocates in Michigan would like to see the eligibility threshold raised to 250 percent of the FPL, which would match the eligibility threshold of our Great Start Readiness Program, which offers high-quality preschool. As an interim step, they’re asking for an increase to 185 percent.
While ReadyNation could certainly argue for these investments for the sake of doing what’s right for families, the organization – which has 61 members in Michigan – focuses even more on economic impacts. Affordable child care boosts the labor pool by enabling more parents to work. It gives kids a foundation for academic success. And it saves money for taxpayers nationwide, who currently lose about $7 billion due to lower income and sales tax revenues when working parents struggle at work.
Put another way - expanding the availability of good, affordable child care makes sense to military leaders and employers in every sector. It’s also a smart move for lawmakers searching for bipartisan strategies for strengthening families today and the workforce and economy both now and in the years to come.
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