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We have to fix child care

For parents, child care can factor into every decision they make.

If parents can’t find someone to watch their little ones, that could keep them from doing everything from participating in local festivals to joining a church to volunteering to going to work. Ditto if those parents can find child care but can’t afford it.

A lack of affordable child care could even cause parents to move out of a community to a place where they can find care.

On that front, Northeast Michigan has a problem.

As News staff writer Crystal Nelson reported over the weekend, the Michigan League for Public Policy considers Alcona and Montmorency counties “child care deserts,” with more than three kids who need care for every one slot available at a licensed facility. Alpena and Presque Isle counties fare better, but not by much.

And the child care we have can cost a lot, an average of $525 a month for a toddler. A single parent with only one kid making minimum wage would have to spend 35% of his or her paycheck just to have someone watch his or her child so they could work. A single parent making the typical wage for an Alpena County resident would have to spend 26% of his or her paycheck on child care. That can make it hard to afford rent or a mortgage, groceries, a car payment, and all of the other costs of life.

Last week, U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2020 count showed Northeast Michigan lost 2,472 residents, or about 4% of its population. Many, many factors affected those numbers, but a lack of options for child care certainly didn’t help.

We have to fix the child care problem so parents can get to work and otherwise participate in our economy, and to make our community attractive to young parents looking for a place to raise their families.

The government can play a role, from child care subsidies for the neediest parents to funding preschool services for more families to streamlining the business startup climate so more people can start child care businesses.

But each of us can play a role, too, such as making ourselves available to watch kiddos for our friends, family, and neighbors who need to get to work.

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