America’s Childcare Crisis Fueled by Lack of Kindergarten Workers

Teddy Bear Kindergarten and Jessica Duckett Kindergarten are experiencing firsthand the impact of the country’s talent shortage. At her office in Fairfax, Virginia, Duckett said she was six employees short and had only 60 of a possible 109 children enrolled simply because she didn’t have the staff to care for them.

Duquette said sometimes candidates don’t even show up for work. Others are unskilled or are looking for a salary that she cannot afford if she wants to keep parenting costs down. She offers an average salary of $ 13 to $ 14, free childcare for staff, and benefits at her two offices.

“There is really no recruitment situation,” Duquette said. “We’re interviewing people who don’t really qualify. People apply, but do not come for interviews, people come for interviews, agreeing to get a job, but do not go through background checks. “

The shortage of childcare workers creates a stronger ripple effect in the economy as a whole, deprives parents of jobs, exacerbating wider shortages felt in almost all sectors. Affordability is another concern for many parents, and some industry advocates are looking at President Joe Biden’s economic plan, which calls for government funding for preschools and daycare centers, as a potential incentive.

A recent survey of over 7,500 respondents from child care centers and homes across the country found a labor shortage in nearly every state, with some as high as 90 percent. Many said they were taking on fewer children as a result, according to an August nationwide poll by the National Association for Early Childhood Education (NAEYC).

“If I find more children to pay for more staff and increase my salary, [for some] there are still not enough people, people are still not applying, people are leaving anyway. I also have children who do not have a guardian, which puts families in a bad position. So it’s almost like a double-edged sword, ”Duquette said.

The employment report released on Friday showed a mixed picture, with non-farm jobs growing by just 210,000 in November, although the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.2% from 4.6%.

NAEYC data shows that wages are a huge problem: up to 80 percent of workers in some states cite wages as the reason they left the childcare industry. Some leave the field in search of opportunities at larger companies like Amazon or Starbucks.

Others are choosing to move into the school system, acting as assistant teachers and beyond, according to Cindy Lenhoff, director of the National Association for Child Care, as there is also a labor shortage there.

“This is really hard work. She’s very demanding – imagine spending eight hours a day with 10 3-year-olds and what physical fitness it takes. Then there is the mental part of it, just keep up with the behavior and emotions. which were really difficult last year due to the stress in most homes, ”Lehnhoff said of the daily losses of workers left in the industry.

And even aside from fighting for workers, childcare is prohibitively expensive for many parents across the country.

The average ratio at licensed centers is one for every four infants and one for every 10 children after they enter kindergarten, Lehnhoff said. Families can require more than 50 hours of nursing a week, which means one full-time worker cannot attend a classroom for such a long day.

Another staff member is needed to cover the extra hours. This, together with the rental of premises, food and supplies for the centers, is expensive. Incentive money will help cover some of the centers’ costs until 2024, but more will be needed to lower costs for families and attract enough workers.

President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda includes a massive cash commitment that Lenhoff said will be a big win if the plan is implemented – $ 400 billion in childcare, including funding licensed institutions and lower costs for families, as well as investment. to universal kindergartens. -TO.

“It would give the middle class a chance to get some support. Many of our middle class parents find themselves in unlicensed childcare and typical childcare situations. So there are no rules, no education, ”Lehnhoff said.

As the industry waits to see if the administration’s funding plan becomes a reality, Duquette said she has been unable to sleep at night since last year because of the mental health of her employees at a time when centers across the country are sprawled.

“In March 2022, it will be two years since we have been doing this. And it’s a long time to be under duress. has been that moment for a long time, “Duquette said.

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