New research shows that the lack of affordable and accessible childcare causes parents in Florida to frequently miss work or even quit their jobs.
Mayra, a manicurist in Kendall, Florida, is facing one of the toughest decisions of her life: to stay home and care for her children, ages two and four, or keep her job, which she says her family needs to make ends meet.
“Every day is a struggle,” the 32-year-old told Floricua.
Her mother-in-law has been pitching in to help whenever she can, but that will end when she returns home to Puerto Rico.
“[Childcare] is very expensive, impossible. It doesn’t make sense for me to work to pay for it. But if I stay home, we barely make it to the end of the month. So, I don’t know,” Mayra said.
Every day, more Florida families are finding themselves in the uncertainty that Mayra describes. Proof of this is a new report from the 2023 KIDS COUNT® Data Book that analyzes how children and families are faring across the nation. The research shows that the lack of affordable and accessible childcare causes parents in Florida to frequently miss work or even quit their jobs.
In fact, the Data Book reports that in 2020—21, 13% of children from birth to age 5 in Florida lived in families in which someone quit, changed, or refused a job because of problems with childcare, with women five to eight times more likely than men to experience negative employment consequences related to caregiving.
But the report also shows that those who do find childcare near their home don’t fare much better, due to the exorbitant costs of child care. According to the report, Florida’s average cost of center-based childcare for a toddler in 2021 was $8,678, or 9% of the median income of a married couple, and 26% of a single mother’s income.
A Growing Problem
According to Perez, one of the main culprits is what she calls the state’s “irresponsible anti-immigrant policies which, because of labor shortages and rising costs, are decimating the childcare workforce, which relies on many immigrant women and women of color.”
She is speaking of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ crackdown on undocumented immigrants in Florida. This year, he and the Republican-led Florida legislature passed a law that requires Medicaid-funded hospitals ask about patients’ immigration status, and another one that forces companies with more than 25 employees to use the federal E-Verify system for new hires starting July 1. State law enforcement officials will also be empowered to randomly audit businesses suspected of hiring undocumented workers.
Undocumented immigrants make up a significant percentage of workers in Florida’s agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors and the law has already had a chilling effect on their willingness to show up to work, as videos have circulated on social media showing empty job sites.
While the law more directly impacts other sectors, the ripple effect that’s emerging as undocumented workers flee Florida could affect the child care sector, affecting non-immigrant families as well.
Things Could Get Worse
Florida’s child care sector faces other looming challenges, too.
In March 2021, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a law that provided states nearly $24 billion in emergency funding to help child care providers stay open and prevent a total collapse of the sector, and another $15 billion to help families afford care.
But that money is set to expire at the end of September, and unless Congress acts, an estimated 212,721 children in Florida could lose their child care beginning Sept. 30, due to the projected closure of 2,196 child care programs, according to a new report by The Century Foundation (TCF).
Without new funding, the sector will be “starved of resources,” according to TCF’s report, and providers will have to increase prices in order to stay open and retain workers—or risk going out of business. In either scenario, families will be left with fewer affordable options.
Families who can’t afford the higher costs could be forced to cut back on hours or leave the workforce altogether in order to provide care for their kids.
According to TCF’s analysis, Florida parents would lose an estimated $604 million in earnings as a result of having to reduce their hours or leave the workforce. As a result, employer productivity would decline sharply, costing the state $633.4 million in economic activity. Nearly 16,000 child care workers in Florida would also lose their jobs.
More Is Needed
An executive order issued by President Biden in April aims at expanding access, lowering costs, and raising wages. But childcare advocates say more is needed. For example, state and local governments should maximize remaining pandemic recovery act dollars to fund needed childcare services and capacity; Congress should reauthorize and strengthen the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act and increase funding for public pre-K and Head Start.
One bill introduced in Congress, the Child Care for Working Families Act, would do just that and provide crucial federal funding to help stabilize the child care sector.
Under the bill, most families would pay $10 a day or less for child care, and no eligible family will pay more than 7% of their income on child care. The average family would save $5,000 per year on child care costs if the bill were to become law, according to one analysis.
The legislation would also provide subsidies to providers to ensure child care workers are paid a living wage and reach parity with elementary school teachers who have similar credentials and experience. It would also increase access to Pre-K and full-day, full-year Head Start programs and boost wages for Head Start workers, and provide funding for states to expand universal local preschool programs.
The bill has yet to advance, but the stakes for families could not be higher.
“If we don’t solve our state’s childcare crisis, we won’t have successful families or a successful economy,” said Perez.
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