Report: Northeast Michigan severely lacking in child care options
ALPENA — Northeast Michigan severely lacks child care resources, according to a recent report from the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Northeast Michigan has more children in need of care than it has licensed child care centers to care for them, according to the report. The League considers Montmorency and Alcona counties “child care deserts”, with at least three kids needing care for every one slot available. The League says Alpena and Presque Isle counties have low capacity for child care.
The report also shows child care costs more than many parents can afford and few families qualify for child care subsidies. In Northeast Michigan, parents pay an average of $525 per month to send a toddler to day care, and up to $575 per month for an infant, according to the League.
Parker James, the League’s Kids Count policy analyst, said parents struggle to obtain affordable child care across the state, not just in Northeast Michigan.
During the coronavirus pandemic, 31% of adults had to leave a job to take care of their children, 23% cut their work hours, 27% took unpaid leave, and 22% of parents used vacation, sick days, or other paid leave, according to Kids Count data.
As businesses trying to rebound from the pandemic have struggled to find workers, national surveys show many workers have stayed home because they can’t find child care.
James called it a crisis.
“This child care crisis is really having a larger impact, and I hope we can make the case of investing in child care so we can continue with the economic recovery,” he said.
TOO MANY KIDS, NOT ENOUGH SPACES
The League’s report estimates 44% of Michiganders live in child care deserts.
Alcona County, for example, has 3.6 children for every spot at a licensed child care center, while Montmorency County has 3.4 children for every spot.
“That really means that families are often competing with each other to get child care spots,” James said.
The League showed Alpena County has 2.3 children for every spot and Presque Isle County has 1.9 children for every spot.
The rate of 3- and 4-year-old children attending preschool in Northeast Michigan is lower than the statewide rate, according to the League’s Kids Count Data Book. Nearly 48% of Michigan kids attend preschool, compared to about 31% in Alpena County, 40% in Presque Isle County, 47% in Montmorency County, and 44% in Alcona County.
Alpena resident Mariah Finch, owner of Great Lakes Childcare Center, said she has four children younger than 4 and a local child care center put her on a waitlist.
“I assume I’m still on the waitlist, but I have no child care, basically, so … we decided to open a day care and make more opportunities for people,” she said.
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Although the business has yet to open its doors, Finch said it has already reached its capacity and has about 135 people on a waitlist.
“There are more people than even we can serve by starting a center that are in desperate need — some are losing their jobs, people have had to quit their jobs just to stay home with the kids because they can’t find anyone,” she said.
CHILD CARE COSTS
If parents can secure a space at a licensed child care center, the cost of sending their kids there can add up quickly.
Northeast Michigan’s child care costs come in lower than the state’s average, but it can still add up. On average, it costs $501 to send a toddler to day care in Alpena County, $525 in Presque Isle County, and $400 in Alcona County. The League could not provide the average cost of child care in Montmorency County.
Families with infants pay even more: $508 in Alpena County, $578 in Presque Isle County, and $400 in Alcona County.
Meanwhile, James said Michigan has one of the lowest eligibility thresholds in the nation, meaning only the poorest can qualify.
In Alpena County, about 4.5% of parents of children up to age 2 and 5.5% of parents of children up to age 5 received subsidies. An even smaller share of parents received child care subsidies in the surrounding counties.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed raising the eligibility threshold to up to 200% of the poverty line.
“The vast majority of families in the region would benefit from this expansion in the child care subsidy program,” he said. “We found that the majority of families with young children in this region tend to have incomes below that 200% of the federal poverty level.”
Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.