By Hayleigh Colombo
The pandemic and its economic aftermath have worsened staff shortages and supply-chain issues and created enrollment challenges and higher costs in an industry already considered fractured and fragile.
As a result, Central Ohio parents are struggling to afford the very service that allows them to participate in the workforce. Meanwhile, more than 125,000 childcare teachers across the U.S. have left the industry since the pandemic started.
“It was an unsustainable model ahead of the pandemic,” said Gina Ginn, who leads the nonprofit provider Columbus Early Learning Centers. “Now it’s just that there’s been holes blown in it and none of the buffers are left to absorb any challenges that might come.
“Childcare centers are open, but that doesn’t mean they’re OK.”
The math simply doesn’t work, advocates say. Before the pandemic, childcare centers were in a high-cost, low-profit industry. Strict regulations and child-staff ratios designed to keep kids safe resulted in slim margins for operators.
And since the start of the pandemic, costs have risen.
For example, diapers cost nearly 15% more than in 2020; baby food prices have risen about 8%.
“I personally am in this field because I love it and I believe that we’re making a difference for the next generation,” Pierre-Louis said. “It is not a profitable endeavor.”
The sector relies heavily on relatively low-paid workers, many of whom are leaving childcare for higher-paying, more flexible jobs as the private sector raises wages to attract workers.
Childcare centers can’t easily raise the pay of workers to match – their private-pay clients say care is already too expensive and the government subsidies that support low-income families’ costs haven’t kept up.
“In Ohio, the average childcare provider makes $10.67 per hour,” said Shannon Jones, executive director of policy with the advocacy group Groundwork Ohio. “That always made staffing childcare very difficult. Now with the pandemic, it’s nearly impossible.”