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.