PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Childcare centers across the nation are facing a staffing shortage at the same time that they are being hit with a surge of families who need their help as parents return to work.
"At some of our meetings we have thrown out there, 'is it because we're in a field where adults are going to be exposed to children who are unvaccinated?' Is that why?" said Charlene White, Executive Director at the Mechanicsburg Learning Center.
Currently, the COVID-19 vaccination is only approved for children 12 and older.
White noted it's just one of many hurdles to hiring childcare workers right now.
Workers also need to be properly trained and meet several requirements to be employed by childcare and learning centers.
"We're competitive with wages, you know," she said. "It's very competitive. Our benefits are great. Paid time off. Holidays. Because, you know we work a little around the school district's schedule as well."
White said she needs to hire eight teachers right now. But the center is receiving no applications for the open positions.
In the meantime, demand continues to increase at centers nationwide.
At Mechanicsburg Learning Center, they currently teach 300 students.
"From August to September we've increased our enrollment by 73 children," said White. "Yeah. In a month."
A recent US Dept of Treasury report called the national child care sector "a crucial and underfunded part of the American economy." It also called the current system 'unworkable' with many parents unable to afford care, low wages for workers, and limited spots for children nationwide.
The Treasury report said "relying on private money to provide child care is bound to come up short. Currently, the average family with at least one child under age 5 would need to devote about 13 percent of family income to pay for child care, a number that is unaffordable for most families.
Less than 20 percent of children eligible for one of the largest federal assistance programs for low-income families, the Child Care and Development Fund, actually receives funding.
Notwithstanding the high costs borne by parents, margins for child care providers are low and many struggle to make ends meet. They survive by keeping costs low.
Labor, the main input, is overwhelmingly provided by women, many of whom are nonwhite, who earn low wages leading to high turnover. Many child care workers are paid so little that they rely on public services for their own economic needs."