‘People go into debt to pay their child care’: Challenges in finding quality, affordable child care

For some, one parent’s income may break even with the cost of child care, leading to tough decisions about keeping a job or staying home.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 5:59 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - When looking for day care for their children, parents aren’t just looking for an open spot, they’re also looking for quality. Finding an affordable option has some parents deciding to simply stay home with their child, leading to economic consequences.

“A lot of people go into debt to pay their child care and then pay it off slowly over time because it’s so expensive,” said Rachel May, a mother and associate professor at NMU.

For some, one parent’s income may break even with the cost of child care, leading to tough decisions about keeping a job or staying home.

This adds additional strain to a workforce that is already stretched thin.

“We know there are some folks out there who have just run the math and know based on the cost of childcare or simply the availability of it that it just doesn’t make sense for them to go back to work after having a child, and the hope is that we remove that barrier for those folks and they will re-enter the workforce,” said Christopher Germain, executive director of Lake Superior Community Partnership.

Germain says the cost of child care intersects with inflation in other areas of the economy.

“There is a direct link between child care and the affordable housing crisis in the sense that we need people to have homes in order to create in-home childcare centers like we’re trying to create, but the reality is they’re both barriers and they both have costs that are high right now that don’t align with what people can afford,” said Germain.

A potential solution is the TriShare program. It splits the childcare bill between businesses, families and the state, but some parents say it’s not a solution for the middle class.

“I talked to someone yesterday who said she hopes she doesn’t get a promotion at work because then she won’t qualify for the TriShare and she will sink financially and have to quit her job, but at the same time they’re barely making ends meet as it is,” said May.

Parents aren’t just looking for an open space they can afford. Rather, the need is for affordable care that doesn’t sacrifice quality.

“I really believe in the power of high-quality care to change kids’ lives and to improve their futures and to make our communities stronger,” said May.

Both parents and experts say it’s also about ensuring that the caretaker is giving children the early education they need. Iola Brubaker, the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative director, says it’s critical in early childhood.

“When you consider that 90% of brain development happens within the first 5 years of a child’s life, making sure that we have not just enough childcare, but quality child care is critical,” said Brubaker.

When we started this series, we knew child care is a complex situation. The main takeaway from talking with everyone has been that there isn’t one solution. Tackling these issues will take cooperation between all organizations.

TV6 and FOX UP will continue to look into what these organizations are doing and how you can make the best decisions for your family.