Why it’s so hard to find child care right now: 80% of centers are understaffed

July 28, 2021, 2:00 PM UTC

Roughly 4 out of 5 child care centers nationwide report they’ve consistently had at least one open position for a month or longer, with about 15% of centers reporting having six to 15 open roles

Less staff has real consequences. About 16% of the U.S. workforce, or about 26.8 million working adults, depend on child care to work. Yet parents are reporting it’s harder and more expensive to find child care. Half of the centers struggling with staffing shortages are enrolling fewer children, according to a new survey of 7,500 early childhood educators from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

A third of centers with open positions report they have longer waitlists and are unable to reopen classrooms, while 24% say they’ve reduced their operating hours.

But why are child care centers still struggling, especially after Congress allocated more than $50 million to the industry over the course of the pandemic

“Federal relief funds have helped programs weather the worst of the pandemic, but they haven’t fixed the underlying economic conditions in early childhood education that led to the crisis in the first place and which led to the closure of thousands of programs,” NAEYC CEO Rhian Evans Allvin said in a statement. 

In many cases, staffing shortages come down to pay. The average early childhood worker earned just $11.65 an hour in 2019, according to the biennial 2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. With many corporations raising wages to over $15 an hour, child care providers have struggled to compete. 

Many providers also took on debt just to keep their doors open through the pandemic. Two-thirds of child care center operators and 76% of home-based providers say they put supplies and business expenses on credit cards during the past 18 months, according to NAEYC’s data. 

“So many child care programs are facing the same problems,” Allvin said. But the increased state and federal funding is helping. About 63% of programs reported receiving some type of financial assistance during the pandemic and nearly half, ​​46%, say their program likely would have closed without that help. 

Some of that funding is still making its way through the system, meaning providers may be able to count on more assistance in the coming months. Additionally,  President Joe Biden has thrown his support behind increased funding for child care in his American Families Plan, which includes universal pre-K, caps on family child-care expenditures and increased wages for child-care workers.

Although the $3.5 trillion budget package that’s making its way through Congress does contain child care funding, it’s only expected to pass with Democratic support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the House won’t take up any infrastructure legislation unless the Senate passes the social program package, but talks on both sides were at a standstill early in the week.

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories straight to your inbox each morning.

Read More

CryptocurrencyInvestingBanksReal Estate