When my oldest child was born, I faced a problem common to many families: what would we do about childcare? Our family’s struggle on this issue isn’t unique, and it continues to this day.
A Delicate Balance
We were fairly young when we became parents. I had graduated from college two months before my son was born, and my husband still had a year to finish. I was working full-time at a retail job until my doctor put me on bed rest. Even if I went back to work after my son was born the $8.00/hour wage I was earning wouldn’t come close to covering the cost of care, rent, and food.
My solution was to work part-time at my son’s daycare. It was a delicate balance, because if I worked too many hours the cost of his care would cut deeply into my wages. My husband continued to work part-time while he finished school, picking up shifts in the middle of the night and working additional odd jobs for extra income.
After my husband graduated and landed a full-time job, we still struggled. As our family grew we were always in a tenuous position: I couldn’t afford to stay home, but I also couldn’t afford to work full time due to the high cost of care for multiple children. For many years I worked a combination of part-time and freelance jobs in order to contribute financially to our family, and my husband worked two jobs.
As our kids got older I was able to work more consistently. I landed a flexible part-time job that paid well and helped me build the career I have today. But between preschool, after-school care, and summer care for five kids, there were times when we were spending more on childcare then we were our mortgage. Even now that four of our five kids are teens/tweens, the struggles persist. Last fall my kindergartner’s after-school program abruptly closed. We were scrambling to find care at a time when almost all programs are full. Summer is still massively challenging, to say nothing of all of the weather-related cancellations we faced last winter.
The childcare challenges we have faced haven’t been easy, but we are fortunate to have some advantages that help make it work. Not all families are as lucky as ours. Childcare continues to be a barrier for families across the state.
In Johnson County
Here are some stats outlining how the childcare issue impacts Johnson County:
- Johnson County has a shortfall of 12,901 childcare spaces.
- There are 2.3 children needing care for every one slot available.
- Nationally parents pay on average $6,000 per year for childcare. Here in Iowa, Johnson County has been identified as the most expensive childcare in the state with parents paying closer to $12,000 per year.
- Johnson County has lost 26% of its childcare providers in the last 5 years.
(Source: The Iowa Women’s Foundation)
Fortunately leaders in our community are taking steps to address the childcare shortage in our area. Last fall the Johnson County Board of Supervisors convened a group of local stakeholders for a poverty summit. The goal of the summit was to identify and address the issues facing the county’s low-income residents. Access to quality, affordable childcare was one of the areas identified as a major barrier for residents struggling to make ends meet. Following the summit, partnerships were formed with the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, Johnson County Social Services, and the Iowa Women’s Foundation to address the childcare crisis facing our communities.
Access to quality, affordable childcare is a community development issue, an economic development issue, and a workforce issue.
There’s no one solution that will solve the problem. We need to think outside of the box and come up with a constellation of solutions to address the issue. It’s up to all of us—parents, business leaders, educators, political representatives and child care providers—to work together to solve this crisis.