“Why so many new faces here?” asks a mom dropping off her child at child care. Turnover in business is never a good thing. Child care businesses are undergoing a lot of turnover and there are a couple of reasons why. Programs cannot keep pace with the increasing minimum wage and insurances and staff cannot afford to live on minimum wage.
We all want quality child care but it is a struggle to hire and retain quality staff when you offer low wages. Therefore, the turnover. Child care employees are dedicated and hard working but are not honored with adequate compensation. Affording a place to live has been getting harder and harder in Orange County, because there is not enough low income housing. Transportation has its challenges too.
Programs survive on parent fees, and because these fees are high already, center directors know it’s hard to raise them. A study published in December 2019 by The Children’s Agenda (thechildrensagenda.org) finds that New York ranks sixth as most expensive in child care. Child care centers will eventually have to close as they cannot afford the increases they continue to face. A program’s payroll for a center is about 80 percent, leaving just 20 percent to run the business. And as minimum wage increases, programs want to honor their seasoned staff and raise their wages which leads to compression and thus, less to run a program.
Child care programs predominantly employ women. Child care workers were able to survive working for low wages in the past because many could pick up a second job working retail to make ends meet. But with the change in our buying habits, retail stores are closing and employment opportunities are harder to find. In her article “Retail Workers are Trying to Escape the ‘Merry- Go-Round’ as Jobs Disappear and Prospects Dim,” published in Time magazine Feb. 7, writer Alana Semuels says ”…women lost 160,300 (retail) jobs while men gained 106,000 (warehouse) jobs.”
Many have put forth plans to fix child care for parents, but there has been little said about supporting child care programs long term. We await suggestions from the Gov. Cuomo’s Child Care Availability Task Force, but the wait cannot be long. Child care is in crisis and it needs significant financial investments now.
Linda Martini is executive director of the Child Care Council of Orange County.