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Rural Survival: Child care access in Michigan

Raúl Hernández González |

Officals used the term 'child care deserts' to describe where 44 percent of Michigan residents live. A child care desert is defined as either having no child care providers or having are three kids for every one slot available in an area.


As a part of our new series, Rural Survival, Tess DeGayner spoke to state departments and organizations about accessibility to child care in Michigan.


 According to the Center for American Progress, 47 percent of the child care desert population in Michigan are rural families. This issue also impacts 60 percent of rural families nationwide.




Source: "America's Child Care Deserts in 2018", Center for American Progress


The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs officials said in 2018 there were 8,810 licensed child care providers in Michigan. 

You can search for child care providers in your county here

The Senior Policy Analyst for Center for American Progress, Rasheed Malik said that should be enough, however, the problem is where the centers are located.

“Michigan is a little better than average but that still means more than 4 in 10 families live in a childcare desert,” Malik said. “That’s any area where there’s either no child care providers near by or there’s so few options that there are 3 kids for every slot, making it really challenging to get care.”

Erin Stratton is a mother of a two year old boy in Crawford County. She said it would have been $30,000 per year to put her son in child care. She said she only makes about $35,000 a year. 



“Once I was ready to go back to work, it was really stressful.” - Erin Stratton, Crawford County

Instead, Stratton said she has a friend who watches her son while she and her husband work. She said the friend is not a licensed care provider but someone she trusts. 

“It really became a whole entire family ordeal until we got our (baby)sitter,” Stratton said. “Our first choice would have been a day care center with other kids just because he’s an only child right now but the one daycare center that we have would’ve been my whole salary to put him in it.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual cost of child care in Michigan is more than $10,861. The average annual cost of college tuition, by comparison is $12,435.

Credit The cost of child care in Michigan | / Economic Policy Institute
Economic Policy Institute

“It's becoming more and more of a factor in whether a parent decides to work or not, especially if they're making a lower wage job it just isn't economically feasible for them to work because they're going to pay more in child care that they're going to earn in the job,” Alex Rossman, spokesperson for the Michigan League for Public Policy said.

Rossman said if child care were more affordable, it would help parents more easily stay in or return to the workforce. 

“Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the need for quality child care in order for them to fill jobs and to be able to have local, affordable and reliable childcare options if their employees going to be able to work,” Rossman said. “We want to make sure that childcare is not so expensive that it's resulting in people choosing not to work because of it.”

Malik said the dated child care system often produces shortages, leaving parents having to choose between staying home or going to an unlicensed provider. 



Malik said another issue that affects access to child care is the location of providers to families. He said rural communities have a deep undersupply of child care centers. 

“Generally, the types of care you find in rural communities is these home based providers, but just by the fact that it’s in someone’s home and there’s not enough space and there is not enough people working there, they frequently are only able to care for six or maximum of 12 in Michigan,” Malik said. “It takes a lot of providers to help out to meet demand. The demand has increased and the supply if anything has gone down in recent years.”

Malik said if public dollars were invested into Michigan's child care system, providers could be paid a proper wage. He said rural communities have the greatest deficit of availability relative to population, and communities with below average incomes have fewer child care options.

“I think for rural communities, the best thing we can do is to build on the child care providers that are already there,” Malik said. “One of the challenges there is that providers are barely breaking even or are losing money. A lot of the time, they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart and trying to support their communities.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 the median hourly wage for child care workers was $11.17. Malik said if public dollars were put into the system, it would allow providers to be paid salary that fits their services. 

“This is a question of priorities as a public for how we spend our dollars and how we structure our budget,” Malik said. “If we were to invest in quality providers and the professional development of early educators and increase the wages, I think we would see an increase in the supply and in the quality of child care across the state.” 

Malik said this would be an investment that would pay for itself. He said it’s been proven to work in other states, but it’s up to Michigan to change the current system.

Tess DeGayner is a student reporter for WCMU News. She is a senior at Central Michigan University studying Journalism and Broadcasting. Her hometown is Fenton, Michigan.