Meet ALICE: She needs childcare

By the League of Women Voters

Meet ALICE. She’s Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed, or she was employed until the pandemic shutdown. She’s heard the headlines about people who need to get back to work, but for her to go back to do so, she’ll need child care, something affordable, maybe with flexible hours, depending who hired her. She’s interviewed for restaurants and local factories. While hourly wages are slightly higher than before she was laid off, she’s struggling to find a sitter or daycare that can take her children when she’d be scheduled to serve at a local restaurant, or to watch her kids second or third shift.

ALICE, or at least one of every three women like her, is not returning to work, according to NPR. One of the reasons is the lack of access to, or the ability to afford, childcare. She and her partner decided that he would work through the pandemic while she’d stay home with their kids because he makes more than her – on average, men are paid 23 percent more than women. Now that she is ready to rejoin the workforce she’ll spend about 12 percent of her earnings on daycare for their kids, which is better than the cost in Indianapolis, where a household like hers might spend 20 or more percent of its earnings on childcare. If she were a single parent, the loss of 12 percent of income would be far steeper. Child care is frightfully difficult for all the ALICES in either dual or single income households.

Child care shortages go way back in Montgomery County. In 2018, Chalkbeat profiled Mayor Barton’s goal to frame childcare as a workforce issue, taking it to our largest employers, like Pace Dairy, LSC (now Lakeside) Communications and Penguin Random House. Perhaps, his approach suggested, they’d realize that finding great employees would be easier if they partnered with our community to solve the child care shortage. Early Learning Indiana studied child care across the state, and Montgomery County’s situation is one of the 10 worst. Not only is the cost-to-earnings ratio higher than the state average of 10 percent, we have too few spots for kids, too few high quality daycare programs, none available with flexible hours for second or third shift workers and far too few spots for infants and toddlers. The mayor found that the distant headquarters of those corporations created major hurdles in communicating the needs of Montgomery County.

In January 2020, the Montgomery County Community Fund (MCCF) sought and won funding for more high quality child care seats because the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee data showed our county ranked in the lowest 10 for placing pre-K kids in high quality programs. Only 2 percent of our pre-K kids are in high quality daycare. Nationwide, 40 percent of kids are in daycare programs and 60 percent are in home daycares. Furthermore, Early Learning’s study estimated our state has over 478,000 children under the age of 6 whose parents work, but only about 24 percent are in licensed programs. The rest are going to a sitter, being cared for by unemployed family members, going to home daycares, or parents are juggling shifts to care for their kids. All of those options place a great deal of strain on parents and children.

In Crawfordsville, quite a number of unlicensed child care arrangements exist, and many are far more affordable than a licensed program. For instance, Layla Myers pays her son’s caregiver about $80 a week. When she returned to work, Myers found it hard to find someone to care for an infant. Cathy Hutchinson has offered in-home care for three to five children at a time, and had a reputation as being involved, loving, and great with developmental milestones. In contrast, licensed programs would cost Myers more than $50 a week. Other providers offer non-traditional hours. Some may hire one or two helpers, but few can offer educational programming associated with licensed, high quality centers. When those cost so much more, or don’t cover second or third shifts, they are a luxury to many families.

From birth to about 5 years old, children’s brains are sponges, building as many connections as they are exposed to. Healthy emotional relationships with caregivers are critical, but so are creative, literacy-rich activities. Children in literacy-rich environments, where caregivers talk to them, read to them, make eye-contact, and provide safe physical connection have much larger vocabularies, better emotional and social health, and have better educational and health outcomes over their lifetimes.

All of those require training, materials, and support for child care providers, which in turn costs money. Some families qualify for subsidies, but they can’t find seats in licensed centers. They turn to more affordable options.

Child care involves personal preference, but ALICE’s situation is complicated by far too many systemic failures. She needs affordable, flexible options, and her children deserve rich and loving environments.

What everyone needs is more funding. Once again, state representatives have not increased funding for pre-K. They point upwards and say it’s the federal government that needs to pay its fair share. Here is where we can raise our voices. We can call on our government leaders to be for the people. We all have a vested interest in funding early childhood needs for everyone because educated, healthy children tend to grow up into contributing, healthier adults. We build a healthy democracy a person at a time

The League of Women Vot­ers is a nonpartisan, multi-is­sue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the League, visit the website; or, visit the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Indiana Facebook page.