Michigan is Positioned to Become a Leader in Child Care Solutions
January 5, 2022
By Alexa Kramer, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS magazine
Hello SBAM members!
My name is Alexa Kramer and it is an honor to be your new Director of Government Operations. A proud Spartan, my background includes political work, research and think tank experience, as well as lobbying. My most recent role was at the Grand Rapids Chamber where I represented the West Michigan business community in Lansing on a wide range of issues.
Having experience in the business lobbying arena for the last four years, I have yet to stumble across an issue so prevalent and so foundational to the success of small businesses everywhere as child care accessibility and affordability.
Child care as a business issue flew under the radar for many years. There wasn’t a clear connection on how the child care industry fit into our overall economic well-being. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data showed, even pre-pandemic, that child care issues were a barrier to workforce participation. Whether it was the sheer cost of child care making it financially difficult for individuals to continue working or the lack of available child care facilities that met parents’ needs, child care presented as an issue for so many working parents.
With the onset of the pandemic, it became very clear how critical our child care industry was to the success of businesses everywhere. Shutdowns resulted in more children home with their parents which severely disrupted demand. Child care facilities in turn were forced to shut their doors. For our essential workers, they relied on child care facilities to meet their needs as they continued on with business as usual. Child care business owners were put in the middle of this constant push and pull.
More and more businesses saw the lack of child care for their employees impact their bottom line. For the non-traditional workforce—those workers who need child care during third shift—the care options are next to none. In a talent shortage, this critical barrier to workforce participation resulted in businesses of all shapes and sizes wanting to find solutions.
Our child care business owners are just that—business owners. They are small businesses themselves, often woman-owned, and those women often are minorities. The pandemic has elevated this fact. We now recognize that we can’t have a successful business climate without a strong, reliable child care industry.
Child care is an incredibly difficult policy issue. It comes with a hefty price tag and is riddled with regulations to keep our children safe. While the cost for care is high, especially for infants and toddlers, the average wage for child care workers in Michigan is just over $10 an hour. Child care subsidy has increased over the years, but families still put a large percentage of their monthly net income toward child care. Not to mention that in Michigan, we have several state departments that oversee some dimension of child care—from quality, regulations and rules to health and safety. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Support for child care has come in so many ways over the last year and a half, whether that’s innovative solutions businesses are taking, legislation that seeks to fix longstanding issues, or an unprecedented amount of dollars at both the federal and state level. Michigan has stepped up and focused on this bi-partisan issue with a real eye for solutions. The momentum has been tremendous, but there is still so much work to do.
Through the American Rescue Plan, Michigan was able to allocate $1.4 billion dollars for child care. While these dollars can be utilized over the next few years, these are one-time dollars. A major area of interest will be building out a sustainable child care system that can continue to function once these dollars run out. There’s no shortage of regulatory and compliance issues to tackle in the system, and it’s been encouraging to see a newly developed Child Care Bureau within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs focus on these longstanding issues.
Workforce attraction and retention is at the very core of every conversation around child care. The industry can’t sustain itself or grow to meet family demands if there’s not enough workers in the system. We must ensure that child care is a viable career pathway for those people interested in working with young children, and a sustainable business model for owners to be profitable.
Michigan is well positioned to be a true leader in child care solutions. Both Governor Gretchen Whitmer and several members of the Republican-led Legislature have put a true focus on child care. This commitment to work together has been transformational for Michigan and our business community.
SBAM stands committed to this important policy issue and will continue to work on behalf of small businesses. We’ve come a long way, but there is still more work to do. We look forward to working with the governor, legislature, key state departments and various other stakeholders to continue this momentum and find solutions that work for Michigan families, children and small business owners.