Connecticut child care crisis: Workers leave for better-paying jobs, and centers turn away kids
The child care industry is in crisis in Connecticut and beyond.
Experts believe it’s driven by a pandemic-era labor shortage. The number of child care workers in Connecticut dropped 28% from 2019 to 2021 compared with the previous three years,
from nearly 9,200 workers to about 6,600, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And when there’s a labor shortage, child care centers have to turn away kids.
Georgia Goldburn, who manages the Hope Child Development Center in New Haven, spoke to Connecticut Public from an empty classroom, one she said was filled with singing children prior to the labor shortage.
“We are licensed to have 16 children in this room, and this room has been empty for several months,” Goldburn said in an interview for “Cutline: COVID to Kindergarten,” which will air on Connecticut Public Television and CTPublic.org on May 19 at 8 p.m.
“We know that the needs are there. We get calls every single day for spaces, and everyone, since August, has been going on the waitlist, waiting for us to find the staff,” she said.
Goldburn is concerned that when kids aren’t in one of her classrooms, they aren’t developing. She also says that some of the children who are being admitted into the program have been kept home during the two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we are finding is many children are coming in with developmental delays that have been undiagnosed because they have been disconnected from these early learning environments, and they’ve also been disconnected from their pediatrician,” Goldburn said. “So what we are seeing is a lot of children that are coming in that have never been in a child care facility with undiagnosed developmental delays.”
Goldburn worries that those kids will be behind in their development by the time they’re enrolled in kindergarten.
Eva Bermudez-Zimmerman, the child care director of labor union CSEA SEIU Local 2001, says low pay is partly to blame for the worker shortage.
“[Workers] are going to take jobs at Amazon or take jobs at FedEx that pay them $2 more, while they have early childhood degrees in this field and they’re sacrificing all of those studies, their love and dedication for this field to make sure that they survive because they have families too,” Bermudez-Zimmerman said.
Connecticut lawmakers have set aside money for the local child care industry. During the 2022 General Assembly session, they approved a $100 million subsidy for local child care and family home child care centers to help employers pay workers an extra $2 an hour over the next two years.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan was supposed to address the child care crisis by capping the cost of child care to 7% of many families’ incomes, while making it free for others.
Meanwhile, American families continue to pay top dollar for child care. A study by ChildCare Aware of America found that as recent as 2020, the average annual per-child price was $10,174.
“We were really hopeful that child care would be a part of the federal budget reconciliation process and it has not been yet,” said Beth Bye, commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood. “Connecticut would’ve gotten an additional $170 million to help with child care had that passed.”
Bye says she’s lobbied federal lawmakers to support the child care industry, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Blumenthal tells Connecticut Public that child care funding will be “at the very top” of his priorities.
“No more than a certain percentage of everyone’s income should go to child care,” Blumenthal said. “There ought to be subsidies so that the people who need that kind of support for child care receive it.”
He’s calling on his colleagues to allocate “tens of billions of dollars” to get it done.
If they don’t, Bermudez-Zimmerman worries that the nation’s child care infrastructure will crumble.
“The picture I can paint for you in 10 years —
if we don’t do anything — is you better figure out what you’re going to do for work because if you have a kid, you probably have got to stay home,” she said.
Explore COVID-19’s effects on early childhood development, kindergarten and learning as part of the Connecticut Public documentary “Cutline: COVID to Kindergarten” — it airs May 19 at 8 p.m. on CPTV or you can watch online.