YORK, Pa. — The child care staffing shortage has been an issue impacting Pennsylvania since before the pandemic even began, but COVID-19 has brought the issue to a new level of crisis.
There are currently 7,000 vacancies in child care in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Child Care Association.
"Child care is a foundation for the economy and we can’t ignore it any longer and we do need to invest," Diane Barber, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association said. "This has taken a toll on working families, there are long waitlists at child care centers because classrooms are closed, because those programs can’t find staff to lead those classrooms."
Barber said that it's getting to the point where these staffing shortages are going to affect the economy.
The biggest causes of these shortages, Barber says, are low wages and lack of benefits. After all, the average wage for a child care worker in Pennsylvania is $10.69 an hour, according to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment.
“It has blown up in our faces and in a lot of ways, it’s because we've neglected the field for so long," Barber said. “Health insurance isn’t there, there may be challenges for paid time off; it’s a sector of the workforce that again, has been overlooked and our investments have been minimal."
Advocates are hoping to work alongside legislators and the current state administration to tackle this issue head on through Start Strong Pa., a statewide initiative within Early Learning Pa. that "aims to support healthy child development, working families, and the economy by increasing access to and affordability of high-quality child care programs for young children."
“Asking the legislature and the governor to step up and pay $115 million to increase the wages of child care workers by $2 an hour," Mai Miksic, director of Children First Pa. said. "(This is a) first step towards recognizing a field that is so important to our economy and has been historically ignored."