Hiring 716: The child care crisis is getting worse

As reporter Ali Touhey was editing one of her stories in our Hiring 716 Child Care Crisis series, she was simultaneously answering urgent texts from her husband:

“Can you come home as soon as possible please???”

Her two children were brutally sick, with a fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fortunately, her husband is a teacher and can fill their child care needs throughout the summer.

But what would she have done if she was a single mother, with no PTO left, and no access to a car to retrieve her sick children from day care?

That’s the reality for many families around Western New York.  According to the Western New York Women’s Foundation, 49% of children in Buffalo lived in poverty in 2015.  If the parents of those children had access to quality, affordable child care, maybe those parents could better focus on their job responsibilities and advancing their career positions.

The impacts of the crippled child care system on Western New York’s work force are multi-fold.

Our extensive Hiring 716 Child Care Crisis coverage opened our eyes to just how broken the system is.

The costs are unreachable for too many families.  State figures show the average cost of center-based child care in Erie County is more than $12,000.  Once you get into the higher end care centers, parents can expect to spend between $16,000-$19,000 per year. 

The Jewish Community Center, which posts its tuition on its website, says 70% of that tuition goes to staff salaries. 

Yet, the salaries for those women and men caring for our future leaders – our most vulnerable – are often barely above minimum wage.

Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s minimum wage plan, these child care centers are going to be putting even more money into those staff salaries.  These workers will remain making near-minimum wage, albeit that wage is higher, and there will be less money to pay for other expenses: books, field trips, activities, maintenance.

These child care providers are reluctant to charge more tuition.  But they are in desperate need of more money. 

The result?

Child care providers will take fewer working families who receive New York State-funded subsidy.  Providers can get more money if they charge market rate. 

That means fewer families who receive New York State subsidy get a chance at quality child care.

Already, many providers cap the number of “subsidy children” they’ll accept.  That’s if there is no wait list.  Some families wait months, and even years to get their children enrolled in their preferred child care provider.

Yet, there are more than 278,000 residents in Erie County who qualify for that child care subsidy.  That means there are nearly 300,000 Erie County residents earning below 200% of the federal poverty level.  For a family of two, that’s a family income at or below $32,920 per year.

Until policies are enacted at the state and federal level to affect meaningful change, our reporting has identified real concerns that our children and our workforce will continue to suffer.

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