Bilinovich: Expensive child care is leaving Ohio families and children behind

Beau Bilinovich, Staff Columnist

As all parents are aware, raising a child isn’t the easiest job in the world. It’s demanding and requires endless amounts of patience and time. For roughly the first two decades of a child’s life, parents are responsible for making sure their child can walk, talk, learn to form friendships, act respectfully, behave responsibly and work productively. 

Teaching, however, isn’t the only stressful aspect of child-rearing; there’s also an immense financial burden. A New York Times survey of adult men and women found that 64% cited the expensive cost of child care as the most common reason for having fewer children than they would like.

Not all adults want or can have children, of course. But for those who do and can—or those who already have children—the cost of raising them renders the prospect of having a well-established family nearly unattainable. This is entirely unfair to working families, who may struggle to sufficiently address their needs on a limited budget. Child care should be accessible and affordable.

The actual cost of child care can vary by state. In Ohio, full-time care for infants costs approximately $9,466 per year, or 16.5% of an average family’s yearly income, and care for toddlers costs about $7,700 per child. These exorbitant costs are burdensome to Ohio’s poor and working class families, and can even be expensive for the middle class. 

The Ohio poverty rate sits at 9.7%—above the national average of 9.3%. The poverty rate worsens exponentially for single parents; single mothers experience a poverty rate of 40.1%.

As such, there are hundreds of thousands of families in Ohio who are unable to access child care and are incapable of supporting their children to the fullest extent. Public assistance does exist for these families, yet the assistance suffers from insufficient funding and a low cutoff for qualification, leaving families still burdened. Without quality child care, children lack a safe and comfortable environment to develop and mature. They are left behind.

Early childhood education programs are crucial for children. Numerous studies show that exposure to these programs leads to lower crime rates and substance abuse rates and higher graduation rates for participating children. In addition, early childhood education programs provide health services, such as vaccinations and meals.

In short, child care is integral for kids to lead happy and healthy lives as adults. But children aren’t the only ones who benefit; parents also succeed as a result of these programs.

Easy and affordable access to child care means that working parents are able to focus more attention on their jobs and even seek higher-paying positions. Instead of having to call off their work to provide extra care to children—especially those who are sick—parents can feel confident knowing that their children are in a safe environment while they work to provide for their family.

As we’ve seen, the child care system in Ohio faces serious challenges, which in turn creates problems for the working class families who need those programs in order to succeed. How can we fix this?

The simple answer is to reduce the cost of early childhood education by expanding public subsidies. While Ohio spends about $1 billion annually on child care programs—which families have access to—this is still not enough. For one, child care expenses have grown considerably in the past 30 years, at a rate 60% faster than expenses for food, housing and transportation, while public funding has remained flat. Second, Ohio’s child care assistance ends when a family makes more than 130% of the federal poverty level—roughly $27,000 for an average family of three. This cutoff only adds to the difficulty of seeking affordable child care programs. An income of $27,000 is far from enough to adequately care for a family, especially one with multiple children.

If child care is to be affordable and accessible, then more funds should be devoted to subsidizing child care and a higher cutoff should be implemented. That way, families are able to receive the support they need.

Moreover, emphasis should be placed on areas where there are few, and sometimes no, child care centers available. Approximately 39% of Ohio families live in these areas, termed “child care deserts.” For parents who want to place their children in child care centers, having limited or no options available is a difficult obstacle to overcome. Thus, more centers should be built, so that families have access to quality care close to home.

Lastly, we should consider the educators themselves. Early childhood educators in Ohio are severely underpaid and experience a poverty rate of 20.6%. Low wages mean that teachers with more experience are less likely to work in early childhood education. As a result, children don’t receive a proper amount of attention or quality education that is crucial to their success. To combat this, wages should be raised for early educators. 

The reality of working class Ohio families who want their children to receive quality education is harsh and unfair. Raising a child is already a difficult job. It shouldn’t be made harder by a broken child care system that leaves families and children behind. If we want these families and their children to succeed, then we should fill in the numerous potholes and finally fix this flawed system.