Child care in Marathon County is entering crisis territory
Costs are rising while the numbers of providers are continuing to decline, data shows
When Wausau’s new Community Development Director first accepted her job, she told The Wausonian that she saw child care as an economic development issue.
That might initially seem odd if you’ve never had to navigate the world of work and child care. Those who have, however, understand completely.
With a shrinking working population, the lack of child care in Marathon County, and the increasing cost of it, means people have to make a calculus.
The calculus is this: Is it worth working in order to just have to turn around and pay for child care?
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By the numbers
Data from Childcaring Inc, an agency dedicated to helping connect parents with child care and in helping develop new child care facilities, shows the numbers of providers continues to drop in Marathon County.
That’s a drop of more than 50% from the 2012 number — 203 to 93 providers in Marathon County today.
Meanwhile, costs are increasing. Data collected by Childcaring shows the current average for an infant in care is $203.45. That’s up from $179.54 in 2013, not quite ten years ago. (And that’s an average: Data shows the costs range from $160 per week to $300 per week.)
So a family with two children, especially with shortages, are most likely looking at the more expensive options. As an example, a family with an infant and a 6-year-old could pay as much as $2,240 per month.
(For perspective, and partially due to my frugal nature, I spend less than that per month in total expenses.)
On the minimum end, that same family could be paying $1,228 per month if they found the best deal. Most likely, given the demand, it’s likely that they’ll pay somewhere in between those extremes, but probably closer to the higher end.
If we split the difference — say, $1,700 per month — a part-time job definitely isn’t worth it, or could even cost money. And working full-time might not seem worth it considering child care costs — it could put an effective hourly rate much lower than anyone would actually work for.
On the flip side, Childcaring experts have told county leaders, it’s becoming tough to keep child care workers. Pay is low, and many decide to go into other, more lucrative (and increasingly available) employment.
Candidates for local office brought up child care quite a bit in county/city election previews. Many considered it a key priority, and a few definitely made the economic argument. More elected leaders are seeing the need, and the connection to workforce.
But solutions aren’t easy to come by. Paying child care workers substantially more will drive up costs; driving down costs will lead to fewer to enter the child care business.
It might be something employers need to start offering — either through subsidies or offering onsite child care.
One that’s never really recovered from the Great Recession, which delayed a workforce shortage that was already in the works.
Child care could be included in the developer agreement evaluation process. Ideally though, new projects with taxpayer involvement, should favor higher wage jobs. The city needs to understand the added burden to housing, transit and child care with every proposal.