Access to Michigan Child Care Needs Re-evaluation

Child care has long been a critical need for parents, and as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on that need continues to grow. When the virus first arrived in Michigan child care centers shutdown as many unknowns loomed. Over a year later, some centers have reopened, while others have not, and capacity has been reduced at many of them. Additionally, the work environment for many parents has shifted as well–essential workers are tasked to the brim, and those working from home have had to juggle a new reality of work and children in the same space in some cases. Not only has the child care landscape shifted in the COVID era, but its financial accessibility has long been an issue. This shift means decreased enrollment, leaving some providers to ask if they should close their doors. But, even more doors closing means the families that still need child care have fewer options, and likely even more expensive options, due to higher demand because of a tighter market. Since COVID first hit Michigan 5.8 percent of women in the workforce have left, many of whom have cited childcare as the reason. Costs are and accessibility are certainly behind that.

According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, the average cost of child care in the State of Michigan was $708 a month for infant care and $726 for toddler care in 2020. In Southeastern Michigan the cost of infant and child care was equal to or higher than the state average in five of the seven counties. In Oakland County, the cost was the highest for both types of care. The average cost of infant care in Oakland County was $929 and the average cost of toddler care was $894. Monroe County had the lowest average monthly cost of infant and toddler care, regionally, at $627 and $615, respectively.

There are some programs that provide financial assistance to families for child care, however, very few are eligible for such subsidies. According to the Michigan League of Public Policy, 5.3 percent of Michigan children 5 years of age or younger were approved for child care subsidies in 2020. In Southeastern Michigan, Wayne County had the highest percentage of children 5 years of age or under who were approved for subsidies at 8.3 percent. These subsidy percentages are among the lowest they have been in decades, according to the Michigan League of Public Policy. The percent of children receiving a child care subsidy has declined 65 percent over the past two decades.

Just as the cost of child care often makes it difficult for families to utilize the service, so does its accessibility. According to the Michigan League of Public Policy, St. Clair County had the highest percentage of open child care centers as of January 2021 at 71 percent, followed by Washtenaw County at 68 percent. Oakland County had the lowest percentage of open child care centers at 60 percent. Furthermore, areas with higher median incomes and housing values tend to have more child care centers, as residents of such areas tend to be able to afford child care more easily. The numbers in the chart above do not necessarily reflect the long-term data that shows areas of higher incomes have greater access to child care as many child care centers closed currently are based on personal business decision related to COVID. An item to consider on this as well are that areas such as Oakland County, where the median incomes tend to be high, have amongst the lowest percentage of open child care centers because they have more income to afford in-home care or for a parent to remain with the children at home, leaving less need for child care centers at this time.

Income clearly plays a role in a parent’s ability to utilize child care services. Although we noted that some subsidies are available, a higher percentage needs to be allocated, which means the state and federal government needs to allocate additional dollars. Also, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently launched the MI Tri-Share Child Care Pilot Program, which splits the cost of child care equally between the employee, the employer and the state. Those eligible to participate in the Tri-Share pilot must be employed by a participating employer, have an income above 150% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) and below 250% FPL, and not otherwise be eligible for the Child Development and Care Program. The three regional facilitator hubs chosen for the Tri-Share pilot are: Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, serving Muskegon County; Saginaw Intermediate School District, serving the Great Lakes Bay Region; and the United Way of Northwest Michigan, serving a five-county rural region in Northwest Lower Michigan. This program is a step in the right direction but additional actions need to be taken to ensure child care is affordable and accessible to all.

14 Percent of Michigan’s Population Lives With a Disability

Prior to the COVID vaccine distribution efforts opening to all Michigan residents 16 years of age and older, there was a strong push to move up the distribution date of the community of people with disabilities and its caretakers. According to advocates, the need for access to COVID vaccines for the community of people with disabilities was imperative because of the close physical contact this community has with their caretakers and often the barriers these individuals have with strictly adhering to COVID guidelines.

According to the 2019 American Community Survey about 13 percent of the US population lives with a disability. In Michigan, that percentage is 14 percent. The Census categorizes disabilities by vision, hearing, cognitive, ambulatory and/or self-care. In Southeastern Michigan there are two counties with a higher percentage of residents with disabilities than the state average. In Wayne County, 15.5 percent of the population is considered disabled; in St. Clair County 16.7 percent of the population is considered disabled.

Of the community of people with disabilities in Southeastern Michigan, the 75 years of age and older community has the highest percentage of individuals considered disabled. Furthermore, of the community in the region, those with ambulatory disabilities have the highest percentage. St. Clair County not only has the highest percentage of those with disabilities but also the highest percentage of those with ambulatory disabilities at 25 percent.

While several counties and communities opened their COVID distribution efforts early to people with disabilities–such as Detroit and Macomb County–this may not have happened without the advocacy that occurred. Raising awareness of disabilities and the barriers that may be incurred because of them is vital in ensuring equality and equity.

A Closer Look at Barriers for Detroit’s Workforce

To understand Detroit’s workforce you must also understand the barriers people have in obtaining employment and business ownership. Of the respondents to the 2021 Detroit Citizen Survey, 42 percent (240 respondents) reported being fully employed, 11 percent reported being employed part-time (64 respondents) and about 35 percent (200 respondents) reported not being employed or looking for work. Furthermore, of the 11 percent who were unemployed but looking for work (62 respondents) only 41 percent were receiving unemployment. This Detroit unemployment level is over twice the statewide rate.

Of the people looking for unemployment, 60 said they were facing barriers. These barriers included available jobs, transportation, education/training and child care.

While there are barriers to jobs, there are also barriers to wealth. Of the 525 respondents who reported barriers to building wealth, 2,025 barriers were collectively checked off. The most common barrier reported was auto insurance that was too high, selected by over 77 percent of respondents (406 people). Additionally, 48 percent of respondents (251) reported a low paying job or little access to better paying jobs, and about two-fifths indicated not being well-informed about personal financing. Furthermore, about two-fifths indicated paying off credit cards as a barrier, and over one-third each cited bad credit, health care costs and student loans.

Finally, business ownership is one means of building wealth and maintaining employment. Of the respondents, about 27 percent own their own business (84) and less than 38 percent of those respondents (32) reported having access to capital to run/build their business.

Building a strong economy and stable workforce is dependent on several factors, such as equal education opportunities, support of the potential workforce–which includes access to capital funding and childcare and everything in between–reliable transportation, and the availability of jobs, especially ones with a living wage. In order to build a stronger community we must first understand the barriers that exist in getting there. The 2021 Detroit Citizen Survey has provided vital insight into understanding the needs and concerns of the community and what issues must be addressed to ensure future success.

Majority of Detroit Home Problems Involve Water Inside

There are household problems, and then there are home problems. Home problems range from lead paint to inadequate infrastructure to high utility costs. The respondents of the 2021 Detroit Citizen Survey were provided a list of home problems and asked to identify which ones apply to their house or apartment. There were 570 respondents to this question and of those a total of 1,111 problems were identified.

High utility costs was the most common problem, which was identified by 275 people or 48 percent of the respondents. Water or dampness in the basement was the second most identified problem and plumbing issues was the third. Four of the five top problems (mentioned by 83% of householders) concern water in the home, and mold is later mentioned by another 9 percent. Water and dampness in homes is highly correlated with asthma, which is one of the most frequently occurring problems for children and adults in Detroit.

The University of Michigan recently produced a study titled “A Decent Home: The Status of Home Repair in Detroit,” which found that more than 24,000 housing units in Detroit are “severely or moderately inadequate,” but only about 3,000 residents were able to access funds to fix the problems. These funds are aimed at low income residents and provided through grants or loans.

A little background about Detroit’s housing stock, according to the US Census Bureau, 78 percent of Detroit’s housing stock was built before 1960. Of the occupied housing units in the City, 75 percent are worth less than $100,000. Additionally, 67 percent of the occupied rental units have rental prices of less than $1,000. The age of housing and its cost plays a role in ongoing home problems, as does the average income of a household. According to a Bridge Detroit article, 73 percent of Detroit renters earned less than $35,000 in 2019, and about half of those households spent at least 50 percent of their monthly income on rent in. This means either less money for home repairs or having to live in housing units that are less than desirable.

The City of Detroit does have a 0% Home Repair Loans Program that offers zero percent interest loans from $5,000 to $25,000 to help Detroit homeowners invest in and repair their homes. Projects that are eligible for funding through this program include correcting health and safety hazards, electrical repairs, furnace replacement, roof replacement and plumbing. Jefferson East Inc. and Rocket Community Foundations are two other organizations in the City that offer funding for home repairs