USA TODAY International Edition
A day without day care: Providers go on strike
Childhood development facilities close in protest over lawmakers’ inaction
Hundreds of child care providers in 27 states and Washington, D. C., went on strike Monday to remind policymakers how essential they are, not only to families but to the nation’s economy.
Early childhood professionals – and the parents they serve – said they’re fed up with the lack of progress on policy promises such as better wages and expanded subsidies.
“I’ve never met a family who has said child care is affordable,” said Allyx Schiavone, a member of the Ideal Learning Roundtable, a national group of developmental early childhood education experts. Schiavone helped organize a Connecticut- specific day of activism this year.
Few providers make much profit, and many are in the red.
Center closures were part of “A Day Without Child Care: A National Day of Action.”
“Many providers and I really believed that when the pandemic occurred that everyone kind of got it – yeah, this thing is essential.” Kelly Dawn Jones Runs a child care center out of her home
Nearly 400 providers pledged to participate in more than 50 confirmed events, closing their doors or striking Monday, according to Wendoly Marte, a community organizer in New York City who helped coordinate the national initiative. Some organizers simply asked parents to wear to work pins with statements such as “I wouldn’t be here today without child care.”
Demand for child care far exceeds the supply, and one reason is a staffing cri
sis. There are few incentives to work in early learning: The jobs tend to pay poverty- level wages and lack fringe benefits.
A survey conducted last summer found that 4 in 5 early learning and care centers nationally were understaffed, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Providers participating in the day of action said the problem has gotten worse, pushing some of their workers to lower- stress, higher- paying jobs at warehouses and chain restaurants.
Before COVID- 19, Shineal Hunter’s Family Circle Academy in Philadelphia served 65 children. Now, Hunter has only three teachers, so she’s down to about two dozen kids.
In consultation with staff and parents, she decided to close down her center Monday to make a statement as a Black woman and fourth- generation child care provider. “Enough with the talking. ... Why should I have to sacrifice taking care of my family? Why am I constantly in a position where I have to choose?” Hunter said. “I want to leave my business to my children, but I’m
strongly against advocating for my daughters coming into this industry.”
Many of the women spearheading protests relied on – and struggled to afford – child care when their kids were younger. They paid their dues and got their degrees, studying early childhood education, working in classrooms and complying with all the licensing rules to retain their designation as high- quality.
Women account for almost all of the child care workforce, and a disproportionate number are women of color. Their median wage is $ 13.22 an hour.
Despite her passion for the work, Kelly Dawn Jones is similarly skeptical about passing down her child care business to her children. Jones, a single mother, runs a child care center out of her one- bedroom home in Indianapolis. Love Your Child’s Care Childcare serves about a dozen children for 10 hours every weekday of the year.
Home- based providers are often subject to the same licensing requirements as centers, such as meeting teacher- student ratios. But they tend to face more barriers in accessing subsidies and are often paid less per child. That means Jones, who refuses to raise tuition for her largely low- income families, is barely getting by.
Jones’ children share a bunk bed in the bedroom, and she sleeps in the living room. She said she isn’t able to save for retirement and had to put off dental work. She has no idea how she’ll pay for her aspiring- rocket- scientist son’s college education.
“The money isn’t being put where their mouth is,” Jones said. “The goal of this action is to hopefully snap people awake. Many providers and I really believed that when the pandemic occurred that everyone kind of got it – yeah, this thing is essential.”
At first, observers were hopeful as politicians championed the need to invest in child care during the pandemic, Marte said. After the failure of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better domestic spending plan, which included provisions that would’ve set a cap on the amount families pay for child care and established minimum salary requirements ensuring pay parity for workers, that optimism quickly subsided.
Advocates have grown more demoralized by Congress’ failure to continue an expanded child tax credit, which deposited monthly payments into parents’ bank accounts. Democrats are pushing to renew the credit.
In some places, parent groups organized Day Without Child Care events.
“The parent- provider relationship is one of the most symbiotic relationships in the world,” said Oriana Powell, a parent organizer in Detroit. “The trajectory of my life has been decided by having to take care of folks” – from her child to her mother to her sister and, after her sister died, her sister’s child.
Powell will always remember a moment of clarity she had before her daughter, who’s in pre- K, had reliable care. Her employer allowed Powell to bring her daughter into the office and work events. She was beloved among Powell’s colleagues.
One day, Powell was giving a speech and realized she couldn’t see her daughter in the sea of her colleagues. Then, she heard a scream. Her daughter had fallen down the stairs. Fortunately, another woman picked her up almost immediately. It was the scariest moment of her life, and it taught her “I cannot be a worker and a parent at the same time.”
“Providers show up because they understand that mothers have to work,” Powell said. “And mothers know they have to work because they’re invested in their child. There’s no me without you.”
“Enough with the talking. ... Why should I have to sacrifice taking care of my family? Why am I constantly in a position where I have to choose?”
Shineal Hunter Family Circle Academy in Philadelphia