Lack of available child care could be a major challenge for Maine's future, report finds
A national business organization that promotes policies to strengthen the workforce estimates that Maine's lack of child care may be costing the state $403 million a year.
A reportreleased by Ready Nation on Monday found that 22% of Mainers live in a child care "desert," meaning there are more than three children under age five for each available child care slot. It found that infant care on average costs about $11,960 per year, more expensive than the cost of in-state college tuition.
The lack of availability is forcing parents like Katherine Johnson, a former Ready Nation and state employee, to make tough choices. Johnston, who lives in Hallowell, spoke at a press conference held at Youth & Outreach in Portland. She says she had to leave her job last year after her second child was born because there were no open spots available. She eventually found one in Lewiston.
"But I remember just calling and emailing several times, because centers get these calls every single day from parents who are desperate, just like 'Do you have a slot, do you have a slot?'" she said.
The struggle to find care has been linked to low wages for the industry, which has caused teachers to quit.
Quincy Hentzel, the CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, told reporters at a press conference in Portland that child care and housing are top priorities for her members, particularly as the state ages and looks to attract new, younger workers.
"Without those two, we cannot support a workforce. We cannot retain workers. And we definitely cannot attract workers," Hentzel said.
The report estimates that the state lost almost a third of its child care workers from 2016 to 2020. That shortage means an estimated 5,000 infants do not have access to child care.