Labor Gap series: Childcare — the missing piece

Kelsey Yelle works at Doug’s Place, a day care center on State Street in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

SARANAC LAKE — Who’s working? Who’s not working? Many of those who are not in the labor market are staying home to take care of relatives, especially if they’re mothers with young children.

“I’m very, very lucky,” said Katie Roque. She works full time in the salon on Main Street, and she’s had the same family child care provider since her daughter, Grace was eight months old. She and her husband also have help from family members, so Grace doesn’t have to be in paid care five days a week.

“Grace’s daycare is the best,” said Roque. “I really lucked out [finding someone] and I have my family around me. I see a lot of people really struggling to find daycare and it’s a shame.”

Roque is also fortunate to have some autonomy at work, as well as daytime hours. When Grace starts school in the fall, she’ll be able to take the bus home or spend some time at her mother’s workplace.

Many parents don’t have those advantages. “I don’t know how people do it,” said Roque.

Doug’s Place day care center in Saranac Lake offers professional day care during the work week. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

In New York state, the average cost of childcare per year for an infant in family child care is $10,972. The same hours of care in a daycare center cost $15,028. Although in the North Country day care costs may be slightly lower, wages tend to be lower, too, and travel costs must be factored in.

“The cost varies pretty widely,” said Courtney St. Pierre, the Child Care Referral Coordinator for Clinton and Franklin counties. “Usually, infant care is going to cost more than anything else.”

Day care comes in three categories, St. Pierre explained. There are child care centers, family child care, and group child care. The last two take place in the provider’s home. All are heavily regulated.

The mean annual salary for child care center workers is $27,580, their average hourly wage slightly less than $10 an hour. Also, unlike other workers, daycare providers generally don’t see their wages go up with their experience. A daycare worker with 20 years of experience isn’t necessarily paid more than one with less.

On average, full-time day care for an infant at a family care provider is around $165 a week, around $150 for older children. Local day care centers cost around $175 a week, depending on the age of the child and services provided. With 89 family child care providers in Franklin county and 35 family child care providers in Essex county, plus 2 day care centers in each county, the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough slots, but that parents can’t afford them.

“That can be a big issue in this area,” said St. Pierre. “People can’t pay for child care, so they can’t go to work.”

According to census data, there are 430,218 single working mothers in New York state and 148,916 working mothers with children under one year old. While not all of those mothers would choose to stay home, and many fathers and single fathers have young children in need of care, it’s a good bet that more parents would be working if there were more affordable daycare. Adding together families with both parents in the labor force and children with a working single parent, potentially there are 870,151 children in the state needing child care.

Many parents rely on relatives for extra help, or work opposite shifts so one of them is always home with the kids.

“Another issue is non-traditional hours,” said St. Pierre. “There are not a lot of providers that can accommodate people who work in the evenings.”

Families who receive services such as food stamps or Temporary Aid to Needy Families are often income-eligible to receive a child care subsidy, but there’s a limit on how many people get that subsidy.

“If you’re not already receiving the subsidy, your chances of getting the subsidy are slim,” said St. Pierre. “Many people qualify, but not all of them receive it.”

St. Pierre said the waiting list for the childcare subsidy has 200 people on it. Not all childcare providers accept the subsidy, either. Like other government aid, it comes along with paperwork, and paperwork takes time and patience.

Child care advocates recently protested a $7 million cut in child care subsidies in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 budget. Assembly member Billy Jones released a statement emphasizing the need for childcare as part of economic development.

“Too many families, especially here in the North Country, are forced to choose between a paycheck and quality child care,” he wrote. “We’ve got to come up with ways to help hardworking parents care for their children.

“This issue is one that’s close to my heart. As the father of a three-year-old daughter, I know how important it is to have the peace of mind that your child is well cared-for. Expanding access to affordable child care is not only good for our families; it’s good for our economy and the future of the state.”