Sep 7, 2022 - News

Worker shortage magnifies Iowa's childcare crisis

Illustration of a lone teddy bear.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An ongoing lack of workers is hampering attempts to mitigate Iowa's childcare crisis, multiple family advocates tell Axios.

Why it matters: Affordable, quality care is essential for a child's development.

State of play: Childcare centers across the state are operating below capacity because of staff shortages, Dawn Oliver Wiand, director of the Iowa Women's Foundation, told Axios.

  • Some before- and after-school programs — including three of Des Moines' Metro Kids sites — haven't opened.

Driving the news: The childcare sector is recovering slower than others from the pandemic, according to an analysis of U.S. labor statistics published last week by the Center for American Progress.

  • Nearly 25% of childcare jobs nationwide — roughly 88,000 positions — lost during the pandemic have not been recovered.
  • Meanwhile, nonfarm and private sector jobs have returned or have improved beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Flashback: Iowa was struggling before the pandemic with a shortage of childcare spaces, prompting Gov. Kim Reynolds to form a task force to identify solutions.

  • Nearly $37 million in grants were announced in January to assist more than 100 projects across the state to create a projected 5,200 new enrollment opportunities.

What's happening: The foundation is advocating for more businesses to partner with daycares and community initiatives to improve programs and boost childcare worker wages.

  • Businesses that partner with daycare programs are, in return, sometimes guaranteed access to openings for their employees.

Zoom in: Since the pandemic, Oakridge Academy Early Learning and Preschool program in DSM increased its minimum wage from $12.50 to $15 an hour.

  • That's around the statewide average, according to Indeed.com.
  • Still, ongoing staff vacancies mean the program is able to care for about 10 fewer infants than it is licensed for, Teree Caldwell-Johnson, president of Oakridge Neighborhood, which runs the program, tells Axios.

Yes, but: Increasing employee pay has helped, said Caldwell-Johnson, who is also a DSM school board member and was on the governor's task force.

  • The academy has full staffing in other areas and is accepting applications to care for children between the ages of 3 and 5.
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