A child care crisis

Illinois loses federal funding for day cares, compounding existing challenges

A lack of affordable day care options is contributing to a workforce shortage in the Springfield area, contends Kayla Edwards, managing partner of Express Employment Professionals.

"I don't use the word 'crisis' lightly. But we are in a crisis right now when it comes to finding enough people to fill positions," she said. Her firm, which has offices in Springfield and Jacksonville, helps employers fill both temporary and permanent positions.

Further aggravating the situation is that a federal subsidy to child care providers expired Oct. 1, said Laura Valle-Gutierrez, a fellow with the New York-based Century Foundation, which has studied the issue.

As part of its pandemic relief, the federal government has been providing day care subsidies to the states. In the case of Illinois, the state lost $800 million in federal funding, she said.

"Illinois put in $300 million from what I saw in its budget for child care, preschool and other early childhood (assistance). ...From our perspective, that's going to be able to backfill what some of the federal funding was," Valle-Gutierrez said. "So the state investments are really helpful, but it's definitely not going to cover the full loss of federal spending."

The loss of federal subsidy money is forcing day care centers to escalate what they charge parents. They need to do this to help pay day care workers the higher wages the federal money afforded them the past few years, Valle-Guiterrez said.

The higher day care rates create a difficult calculus for parents, particularly those with more than one child, Edwards said.

"People don't think about this, but child care is really the foundation for many in our workforce – those that have families," she said. "Without it, parents aren't able to go to work. And there are other factors that are occurring that are (contributing) to an already super-short labor supply."

Among those factors are the retirement of baby boomers, reduction in legal immigration and a birthrate that has not been producing enough workers to fill the shoes of those who are leaving the workforce.

But making child care affordable and readily available is something government can do that will expand the workforce, Edwards said.

"I'm for a smaller government in general. However, when it comes to our tax dollars, supporting programs that support our workforce, I am 100% for it," she said. "If we help people be able to afford day care through government programs, they can go to school and develop their skills and knowledge or they can go to work and help make our economy healthy. It's good for the individuals and the families as well."

When day care is expensive, workers often choose to stay home and look after their children, because it can be a more cost-effective option than working and paying for daycare, she said.

The state budget showdown in 2016-17 caused many Illinois day care centers to shut down, a reduction in options that many communities are continuing to experience, Edwards said. And the COVID 19 pandemic further aggravated the problem.

"It was exacerbated after 2020 and 2021," she said. "We had a pool of workers that had been laid off because the businesses had literally been shut down. When Illinois opened back up and businesses were ramping back up, we were calling people to say, 'We have this job for you, they're excited to have you back.'"And in many instances, it was either, 'I'm just not ready to go back' or 'You know, I'd really like to go back, but I don't have anyone to watch the kids.'"

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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