‘If we don’t open, mom can’t go to work’: The pandemic puts a priority on child care

Traffic was roaring up and down Northwest 27th Avenue in Miami, but most of the children inside 1 World Learning Center snoozed away one afternoon last week.

It was nap time at the preschool.

The soft sounds of 3- and 4-year-olds sleeping on green cots with their blankets wrapped around their classroom. There was soft music playing for the younger children in other rooms. Two infants hadn’t yet settled down. One 4-month-old was rubbing her eyes and crying softly.

That Monday, 23 children were at the school ranging in age from 4 months to 4 years. That was about half the number at the center for cares, according to owner and director Antoinette Patterson.

She’s run her day care at this location since 2015. She started in the child care business about 20 years ago. She’s been through economic recessions, hurricanes and is now a global pandemic.

She called the pandemic “chaos” of the early months a mad rush for masks, gloves and cleaning supplies. That has given way to awareness, vaccines for most people (except young kids) and treatments.

“We figured it out,” Patterson said.

Preschool student awaits pick-up at 1 World Learning Center in Miami-Dade County on Apr. 25, 2022.

In March 2020, child care centers were encouraged to stay open. Their staff were among those deemed essential workers in Florida. Schools, restaurants and bars were closed, but not child care facilities.

“You still have police personnel and nurses who have work to do, doctors to work with, correctional officers. We still have parents that had those carers,” she said.

Millions of dollars in tens of dollars are included in the first federal COVID emergency spending package for child care in Florida. Patterson’s preschool secured several emergency loans and grants, including a $ 133,000 Emergency Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration. It also received two Paycheck Protection Program loans, about $ 17,000 each. Both have been forgiven. The business secured a separate $ 6,000 grant from the Small Business Administration, too.

The preschool has a ZIP code where just over half of households make less than $ 50,000 a year, according to Census Bureau data. That’s a few thousand dollars less than the average household income in the county. The area is about 70% Black.

  Antoinette Patterson started 1 World Learning Center in 2005 in Opa Locka.  It has been on NW 27th Ave in Miami-Dade County since 2015.
Antoinette Patterson started 1 World Learning Center in 2005 in Opa Locka. It has been on Northwest 27th Ave in Miami-Dade County since 2015.

The younger the child, the more expensive the care is, starting at about $ 250 per week for babies. Most of the parents sending their children 1 World Learning Center qualify for a subsidized fee, according to Patterson.

Attendance is less than before the pandemic, but the subsidized fee was increased early in the pandemic. That has helped Patterson raise the hourly pay rate for her teachers. Starting pay is between $ 12 – $ 13 an hour. She offered a $ 600 hiring bonus, but didn’t get any bites.

Wages and employment in the child care industry are growing in South Florida. Median pay was up 20% from last year to a year ago. Still, it remained below $ 14 an hour. And while the number of people working in daycare dropped nationwide by more than 20% between May 2019 and May 2020, it grew by 5% in Florida.

“We can’t afford to compete with Burger King or McDonald’s maybe $ 13 an hour. We find ourselves in a rut. It’s hard for us.”

Antoinette Patterson, Owner / Director, 1 World Learning Center

“You see help signs everywhere because it’s extremely difficult to find people to work with,” said Florida Policy Institute Senior Policy Analyst Norín Dollard.

“Child care has historically not been a very high paying job. It is a very rewarding job. And we are really grateful to the people who do it. But it is not a lucrative occupation by any means. People (are) seeking jobs. In the same way that they were before the pandemic, “Dollard added.

And there are few people in the traditional labor pools from which the child care industry will usually hire.

  A child at 1 World Learning Center holds up a toy after her afternoon snack on April.  25, 2022.
A child at 1 World Learning Center holds up a toy after her afternoon snack on April. 25, 2022.

While the overall job market has bounced back from the pandemic depression, there are still fewer jobs today and few people are available to work in South Florida than before the pandemic.

The labor force in March was 1% smaller than the month before COVID-19 led to restrictions. That may not seem like a lot, but in South Florida, that’s more than 50,000 fewer people in the job market.

Statewide, men are back at work in the same numbers as the pandemic, but not women.

“The child care burden, even at this juncture, tends to fall on predominantly women. So where child care is not available or affordable, women – if they leave the workforce – they are not returning to the same numbers that men are. of their caregiving responsibilities, “said Dollard.

That ‘s especially true for Black women in Florida. The latest data from 2021 shows the number of Black women in the job market and the number of Black women working in the state were still down 2% from pre-pandemic levels even with broader job recovery.

“The people who have suffered from the worst of the pandemic, whether it’s from disease or because they work in low wage industries, are people of color, and poor people who are struggling to make sure their kids were taken care of in a healthy and safe way. environment to begin with. “

Norín Dollard, Senior Policy Analyst, Florida Policy Institute

“They’re the ones who continue to struggle with this and who are going to make the choice about going to work.”

Families qualify for financial help based on their family size and income levels. The subsidies are reimbursements to an approved child care facility based on the level of care – usually determined by the age of the child. Its highest for infants and special needs children. And the reimbursement is only paid for the day the child attends.

The reimbursement rate is about $ 30 a day. Meeting higher licensing standards and quality performance incentives can increase the reimbursement rates.

  Art supplies in the classroom at 1 World Learning Center on Apr.  25, 2022.
Art supplies in the classroom at 1 World Learning Center on Apr. 25, 2022.

“Demand is high throughout the state,” said Evelio Torres, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. There are 30 early learning coalitions across Florida with geographic responsibilities. They are setting up non-profits under Florida law to provide state and federal dollars for preschool services for low-income families.

“The challenge that we’re having right now is because employers are paying higher wages, some parents aren’t qualifying for the subsidized program. There’s an income threshold. So it’s a Catch 22,” Torres said. “Those parents are now making a little bit more money. That’s what we call the benefits cliff.”

If the parent gets a raise or a new job with a higher paycheck, they may no longer qualify for public assistance, like a childcare subsidy. But they are still not making enough money to afford the care on their own. For a family of four in South Florida, that’s about $ 40,000 for the early learning subsidy.

There is no waiting list for a parent to receive the subsidy in Miami-Dade County, according to Torres. “We have enough capacity to serve children. The biggest issue that we have right now is we don’t have enough families to qualify for the program,” he said.

The Legislature has increased reimbursement rates during the pandemic. It then up to the individual day care centers how those rates impact worker pay.

“The child care industry is not like any other industry where they can just raise their prices. That is very difficult. Some families will elect, if they are charged $ 10 or $ 15 more, to leave their child at home with a relative or a friend. , “said Torres.

And that underscore’s another challenge Torres sees in trying to raise the economics for the industry.

“Part of the challenge we have in this industry is that it is still referred to as child care. This is early learning. There is a lot of learning that takes place.”

Evelio Torres, CEO, Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties

  Backpacks line a hallway at 1 World Learning Center preschool in Miami-Dade County on Apr.  25, 2022.
Backpacks line a hallway at 1 World Learning Center preschool in Miami-Dade County on Apr. 25, 2022.

Child care workers and advocates call it economic development. And companies may be rethinking the role they play for the care of the children’s employees.

“Businesses are starting to (ask), ‘What do my employees who are working parents need (in order to) get to work?'” Said Madeleine Thakor, president of The Children’s Movement Florida.

In a May 2020 survey, the Children’s Movement found 75% of Florida parents relied on preschools for child care and over half of parents said their programs were closed.

Today, child care facilities in Florida can operate at their licensed capacity. Yet, in the tight job market, wages are rising and companies are looking to stand out in the competition for workers. A separate survey showed child care affected 60% of the caregivers.

“We found that child care support and flexibility were really key to employee loyalty. And that’s what the workforce is constantly demanding,” Thakor said.

It goes beyond today’s workforce, too, she points out. “It has been about talent for the next generation” through developing communication, cooperation and social skills in preschool.

“Businesses who are saying, ‘Hey, I don’t have the right talent to hire,’ are looking at their education priorities and early in the early learning and preschool years, saying, ‘This is where we need to get it. right. “

Emilu Alvarez thinks the pandemic made a lot of people realize child care is an economic engine. She has worked at The Creative Learning Center preschool in West Kendall for more than 30 years, most of the time as a director.

“If we don’t open, mom can’t go to work,” she said. “If we’re not here, the parents don’t have a way to go to their job.”

  Director Emilu Alvarez sits in the Library of the Creative Learning Center preschool in West Kendall on Apr.  28, 2022.
Director Emilu Alvarez sits in the Library of the Creative Learning Center preschool.

The preschool is on the grounds of the Central Presbyterian Church. It has 25 classrooms, though three are closed because of a lack of staff. The school has a capacity of 343 students. Only 249 toddlers through pre-kindergarteners are enrolled. The school has 43 staff members, down from 56 before the pandemic.

“I do feel that we are very fair (with) pay, but it is never going to be a worthy wage – not for child care workers,” she said. Some younger teachers have taken second jobs in order to afford, according to Alvarez.

She has secured all her teachers to return for next year, when enrollment is expected to grow.

“We have to think we’re going to make it,” she said. “And if we’ve made it this far, we’re going to make it. And we have to be here for the families.”
Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker