One thing keeping workers out of the workforce: Access to affordable child care and preschool. Many parents, especially women, haven’t returned to the workforce because they cannot afford to. According to the Economic Policy Institute, infant care in California costs about $16,945 per year.
According to Bright Beginnings, an organization that seeks to improve children’s development, there are over 35,000 kids ages 0-4 in Monterey County, but only about 10,000 daycare spots available.
Shannan Watkins, executive director at childcare provider Early Development Services, says childcare services during the pandemic were reduced by half and now hundreds of families are on a waiting list. “The pandemic really showed that child care is a huge component of our economy,” Watkins says.
Watkins says that, like other industries, child care providers are facing worker shortages; the pay is generally just above the minimum wage. In order to attract more employees, she says they need other sources that do not involve parents paying more.
“There’s lots of job openings, and one of the reasons is that women have left the workforce. It’s cheaper for them to stay at home,” says Francine Rodd.
Rodd is executive director of First 5 Monterey County. But she is speaking as a campaign volunteer for a citizens’ initiative to gather signatures for a county-wide ballot measure for a parcel tax that would raise money for early childhood education.
The initiative would add a $49 tax per parcel per year that would provide an estimated $5.5 million every year for 10 years. To pass, the measure would need over 50 percent of total votes cast.
First 5 was created in 1999, thanks to state Proposition 10, which adds a 50-cent-per-pack tax to cigarettes to fund youth initiatives; funds are distributed statewide based on birth rates. The good news is tobacco sales are down. The bad news is that First 5 Monterey County’s annual budget is projected to decrease from $6.5 million currently to $2.2 million in 2029, per an annual report. If passed, this measure would not backfill that revenue but would go directly to creating licensed child care programs.
Priscilla Amao, a single mom and psychology student at CSU Monterey Bay, is one of the volunteers gathering signatures. She says enrolling her daughter in preschool helped her to continue with her college education. “There were times that I thought about giving up on pursuing higher education because I was struggling to find safe quality, affordable childcare,” Amao says.