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Washtenaw County Leads State in Childcare Costs

For parents in Washtenaw County, it comes as no surprise that we pay more on average for childcare than parents in any other Michigan county. I haven’t paid for childcare in the better part of two decades, but when I had my youngest child in full-time daycare the rate then (early 2000’s) was more than $900 per month. The “average” cost of childcare in Washtenaw County right now is $885 per month.

No, that doesn’t mean the cost of childcare has dropped since then. Anyone who pays for childcare knows that the younger the child, the more expensive the childcare is. You’ll pay much more for care for an infant than you will for a 5-year old. (The rate published in the MLive article on the subject is an amalgamation of all daycare rates for children of all ages.) The reason for this is simple: State licensing rules dictate the number of caregivers needed. The younger the child, the fewer children the caregiver can supervise.

The cost of childcare is precisely why the behind-closed-doors decision to close the Children’s Center at Washtenaw Community College hurt. It still hurts and it will continue to hurt for years to come.

Parents who want to attend school face multiple challenges; it isn’t strictly about cost. Don’t get me wrong – cost is a major part of the equation. At an average cost of $900 per month, that’s $10,800 per year. To pay Washtenaw County’s average monthly cost for childcare, a person making minimum wage would need to both work full-time AND devote two-thirds of their take home pay to childcare costs. That leaves only one third of their remaining net earnings to pay for all other expenses. Dollarwise, that would be $475 per month to cover rent, food, utilities, clothing, transportation.

Student parents need affordable childcare options

Realistically, the parents most in need of affordable childcare are those with infants; they need the most expensive kind of childcare. The average hourly cost of infant childcare in Michigan is $13.50, paid from a parent’s net pay. That’s 137% of Michigan’s gross hourly minimum wage ($9.87) and 170% of Michigan’s net hourly minimum wage ($7.93).

Beyond cost, however, parents also have a time problem. There’s rarely enough time in the day to work, take care of your children and go to school. So little things like on-campus, licensed childcare that’s available late into the evening can mean the difference between being able to think about going to school and simply not going.

WCC’s administration outlandishly claims that there was little demand for childcare, so closing the Children’s Center made sense. The reality is that the Children’s Center would have been popping at the seams had WCC’s administration done a better job of accommodating Washtenaw County’s working parents by constructing pathways for them to succeed while managing the rest of their responsibilities.

Those pathways might have included accelerated, and/or guaranteed evening and weekend classes. Or grants and scholarships for students who can’t enroll in the minimum number of hours needed to maintain federal financial aid. Zero cost, self-paced, online remedial/refresher classes for students who have been away from the classroom for a significant time. Those pathways may have paired students with social services like housing, food, and healthcare assistance through the county and/or State.

By closing the Children’s Center, how many Washtenaw County parents did WCC foreclose the opportunity to improve their economic situation? The answer is unknowable, but it’s undoubtedly more than one.

Photo Credit: Kids Work Chicago Daycare, via Flickr