AUSTIN, Texas — Child care providers play a key role in supporting other essential industries. When parents are at work, children are safe in the care of qualified workers.
However, the pandemic changed this, and now the child care industry is at risk.
Isabel Huerta, executive director at Sammy's House, said that because they are so short-staffed, they can't run the business like they used to.
"We're only serving 50% of our enrollment," she said.
They've cut enrollment and are turning away parents and kids.
"Oh, my goodness, our waiting list is humongous right now," Huerta added.
She attributes this to the staffing shortage. While Huerta is trying to get things moving again, people aren't budging.
"If we ever had an opening, we would have 50, 60 applicants," Huerta said. "Right now, we can have for any one of our positions set up interviews, and no one even shows up for the interviews."
Texas Association for the Education of Young Children Executive Director Cody Summerville said the main reason for this shortage is the low wages.
"Hourly wage for a child care teacher is between $10 and $11 an hour," Summerville said.
Huerta said it's hard to compete against other businesses that offer almost double what she can.
This adds even more strain to the industry, and as people continue to leave the industry, fewer and fewer centers are able to take kids in.
"When families don't have a safe and caring environment in which to leave their child, they can't go to work," Summerville added.
That means working parents can't go back into the workforce. They have to stay at home to be with their kids.
"The unfortunate thing is that child care is the backbone of our economy, and so without a high-functioning child care system, it puts strain on the entire economy across all industries," Summerville said.
Huerta said, at some point, she'll have to start raising prices because rent is high. While she doesn't want to, there's no other way to keep business afloat.
"How on earth would they ever be able to afford $2,000 a month in child care when it's a single mom with three children?" Huerta said.
Now, all she can do is wait and hope that staff starts to appear. She fears if child care gets too expensive, families will start to leave the city, eventually leading to the closure of her business.
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