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Stateside Podcast: Michigan's childcare crisis

three children sit out of focus in the background on a carpet printed with a road pattern. Two blue toy cars are in focus in the foreground.
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No matter where you are in the state, finding affordable, quality childcare is often a struggle. Will an infusion of federal cash and changes proposed by the state Legislature make a difference for families?

Michigan’s Legislature is moving a package of bills designed to streamline operations for the state’s beleaguered childcare industry. Not only have day-to-day operations changed radically because of COVID, but the industry’s financial model has been thrown into chaos because of the statewide labor shortage.

As daycare providers struggle to find staff, many are hopeful that the state's proposed $1.4 billion childcare aid expansion package will offer some relief.

Nina Hodges is owner of Above and Beyond Learning Child Care Center in Detroit. Hodges has already received some state funding, and said most of her aid went towards providing pay raises for her employees.

“I need to give them at least $13 an hour because you want them to have a livable wage,” Hodges said.

The worker shortage in the childcare industry has been a topic of discussion at the state level for years. But the pandemic has drawn the urgency of the situation to the fore, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Michigan House successfully moved proposed reforms earlier this month. The package is now in the state Senate.

“This is now something that needs systemic change because it goes into every legislator's backyard,” said Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “All of their constituents are struggling with this. Republicans, Democrats, rural, suburban and urban legislators understand the need to work together to make this happen.”

Childcare centers are in dire straits as they struggle to keep up with and balance the needs of parents and those of prospective employees, according to Dustin Walsh of Crain’s Detroit Business.

The average daycare owner only earns about $40,000 a year, according to Walsh.

“With fewer women working, there's fewer available people for employers to hire,” Walsh said. “And that's clearly a major problem as we are in sort of right now. You can't talk to a single employer that isn't struggling to find workers.”

“I don't understand how we solve this without the government paying for childcare, whether that's universal pre-k in all 50 states with some sort of federal subsidy or just an expanded federal subsidized child care,” he said. “It's the only way that this will make economic sense.”


Dustin Walsh is a reporter for Crain's Detroit Business.

Nina Hodge is the owner of Above and Beyond Learning Childcare Center in Detroit.

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Erin Allen comes to Michigan Radio as a new producer for the station’s Stateside show. She is an experienced communicator driven by her curiosity about stories of people.