Child-Care Crisis Squeezes Families, Workers as WA Session Begins

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Child care could be a crucial issue for state lawmakers as the session begins in Olympia today.

Because of its cost, early childhood education and care is out of reach for many Washington families. On the other end, providers are struggling to pay teachers enough to keep them in the profession.

Ryan Pricco, director of policy and advocacy for Child Care Aware of Washington, said the state has been working to address the child care shortage, and predicts it will be a monumental task.

He pointed out last year, a child care provider-led compensation team was convened with voices from across the industry.

“They’ve developed an amazing platform that we are now bringing to the Legislature starting this year,” Pricco explained. “It’s a multi-year campaign, to finally get to a point where the state is invested in extending living wages and benefits to the entire child-care workforce.”

There are 100,000 fewer child-care providers across the nation than before the pandemic. However, Pricco noted the industry faced problems before the pandemic began.

Gabriela Quintana, senior policy associate at the Washington state-based Economic Opportunity Institute, said the lack of competitive wages affects women, especially women of color, most. She acknowledged the pandemic created deep holes in the profession, and many teachers are leaving altogether.

“We hear stories about teachers going to work for places like Amazon or Walmart,” Quintana observed. “Where there actually might be a higher wage and may actually have a benefit, like health care or vacation.”

Pricco hopes lawmakers will listen to people within the industry when crafting solutions during the session, but feels a broader response is also needed.

“This is a nationwide problem,” Pricco asserted. “This is a problem that impacts our entire economy and our entire way of life, and we need to all come together to build a better system, in order to achieve the results we all want.”

Featured photo: About 10% of the child care workforce has left the profession, compared to the numbers at the start of the pandemic. (New Africa/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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