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‘I don’t know how people are making it’: Affordable child care is crucial to business

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Currently, almost 2,000 families are languishing on the wait list for the state child care assistance program because policymakers haven’t funded it adequately.

In 2005, when my partner and I took the leap and launched Field Landscaping, I definitely didn’t think that child care would be a major issue for me or my business. At the time, I was 33 and most of our employees were in their mid-20s. We were excited about the opportunity to work outside  and help homeowner’s create outdoor spaces they love. We were emboldened by the challenge of creating a great workplace where people would stay and help us grow the business.

Now, I’m 47 and have twin 5-year-old boys and a wonderful 8-year-old daughter. My 25 employees have kids, too — a total of 18 kids among all of us. It’s been amazing to see our families grow up with the business and gratifying that so many have chosen to stay with Field.

And, like for so many in our state, child care is a huge issue and constant topic of conversation. The child care years have been a struggle for my family. This year, my wife and I will pay $18,000 in child care to send our twins to our local St. Louis Park city program. The teachers are AMAZING! I feel incredibly lucky to have my kids learn, socialize and be protected by such amazing people.

We will also be forever grateful for my wife’s parents, who have been able to help with day care over many years of my kids’ lives. We have had so much help and it has still been hard. I have no idea how other people make it. That is a constant refrain I hear: “I don’t know how other people make it.” And many aren’t making it. The stories from so many around the state show how difficult it has become to build our families (and businesses) through this critical time in our children’s lives.

As a business owner, I see child care as a critical-level issue. I am sure it wasn’t in the ’60s and ’70s, when my parents had kids. But as our leaders have neglected to confront the runaway costs of both child care and health care, these are the major issues in all of our lives. The cost of child care and lack of quality options is limiting occupation options, whether talented people can afford to go into the workplace and whether people can choose to start their own business. As a major disruption, it limits career advancement as employees struggle to maintain continuity in their job.

Jason Rathe
Jason Rathe

I was lucky to go to Washington, D.C., earlier this year and represent Minnesota in a child care conference. I learned a lot about the challenges of the small businesses and organizations that run child care facilities, the low pay of child care providers, and the “child care deserts” where people can’t find any child care options. I also learned that success in kindergarten and first grade correlate to success all through school and that success in these grades highly correlates to how prepared our children are when they enter grade school. Quality early childhood education is truly a national imperative.

As a citizen, I am frustrated that, even though polls overwhelmingly show that child care availability and cost is a major crisis in both our urban and rural communities and that voters overwhelmingly want our leaders to attempt to find long-term solutions, little has been done.

That’s why I was heartened to see Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota House proposing to increase the state’s investment in child care. Currently, almost 2,000 families are languishing on the wait list for the state child care assistance program (CCAP) because policymakers haven’t funded it adequately. The governor and House’s budget would take more than half of those families off of the waiting list. While far short of a solution, it is a step in the right direction.

By contrast, the Minnesota Senate proposed to eliminate the Child Care Assistance Program. This not only harms 30,000 children and 15,000 families, but it hurts our state’s economic well-being and Minnesota businesses.

As a business owner, I understand that there will always be a next problem or challenge in my business. All my team and I can do is determine the two or three most critical issues and put our minds and hearts together to come up with solutions. I don’t know the best long-term solution to our child care crisis, but I do know that it is a top issue and our leaders should be working harder to come up with a solution.

The Minnesota Legislature should eliminate the waiting list for child care assistance, increase CCAP reimbursement rates to keep providers in business, and help address the child care shortage. Given what a strain child care is for so many of Minnesota’s people and small businesses, this is the least they can do this session.

Jason Rathe owns Field Outdoor Spaces Landscaping and is a board member of Main Street Alliance.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/16/2019 - 08:33 am.

    If people would take the time to work the numbers, the financial edge in having a parent care for their children becomes clear; the huge benefit it has for the children need not be stated.

    The benefit to society of having well adjusted, emotionally secure kids is incalculable. Child rearing is the most important and rewarding career anyone can ever have.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/16/2019 - 11:49 am.

      That’s good in theory, but the neoliberal economic order of the past forty years had made that quite difficult. Wages haven’t grown at all. It’s time we elect representatives who actually care about the hardships people in the middle class face.

      Let’s see the Republican party so something actually courageous, and advocate for a mandatory one year of maternal and parental instead of cutting taxes for the rich. Think of the wonders that would do for families trying to do the right thing for they’re chiller

    • Submitted by Brandy Sroga-Coons on 04/16/2019 - 02:56 pm.

      Are you so blinded by a families needs? To have one parent stay home for 4 years. How are middle to low-income families who make 30,000 to 40,000 supposed to survive? I have worked in the childcare industry for over 20 years. I was also a child who did not have to go to childcare. Yes, I was lucky but with the rise in the cost of everything, how is a one income family really going to make it. When my medical is as much as my house payment there is no way I can comfortably live on one income and I make decent money.
      Yes, birth to 5 are the most important years. Parents can teach them so much but those who receive education prior to kindergarten are prepared for the riggers that have become MN public Education. Truthfully Kindergarten should be relabeled first grade and we should go beyond 12 grade because our kindergarten in the past and today’s are two completely different programs.

      Childcare programs make nothing. Pretty much every dollar we receive goes back out in expenses to provide education, to have healthy meals and to make sure the children are safe. I would love to see the day childcare is profitable but that will not happen in my time.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/16/2019 - 10:15 am.

    I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Senker’s first sentence. Alas, given our current society and the numerous expectations built into it, many, many couples with small children or infants do not have ready access to a parent. In that situation, while I absolutely agree with Mr. Senker’s philosophy about the importance of the job, our society does not share that same attitude, as reflected in the terrible pay for most of those engaged in the work.

    Child care workers, including (as we should) teachers, are generally paid abysmal wages, especially those whose jobs are focused on infants, toddlers and preschool kids. Bang for the buck is greatest at that level, but that’s the level where current “conservatives” generally balk at public funding. It’s short-term thinking at its worst.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Rathe and his employees are forced to scramble for alternatives that will fit the budget of a family with modest income, and that we (and they) hope – but can’t be certain – are adequate. It’s one of the drawbacks and unintended consequences of an economy that increasingly leaves “ordinary” families behind.

  3. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/16/2019 - 12:33 pm.

    …especially those whose jobs are focused on infants, toddlers and preschool kids. Bang for the buck is greatest at that level, but that’s the level where current “conservatives” generally balk at public funding.

    It’s also the most crucial time of a child’s life. Experts of all stripes agree; infancy to 4 years of age are the most important years of a child’s formation. Being cared for by a parent is crucial during those years. It’s time that cannot be bought back.

    Some people don’t plan, and accidents happen; I get it. But as I taught my own sons, when you bring a new human being into the world, all bets are off; that child has to become job #1. Four years sacrifice, at a minimum, seems to be a very small price to pay to have a well adjusted, happy and prosperous child. And it’s one that I think most good parents would agree with completely.

    Looking to others to finance one’s family from the start is a pretty poor example to set, in my opinion.

    • Submitted by B. Dalager on 04/16/2019 - 02:56 pm.

      You’re making a lot of assumptions here, probably most ridiculously that creating a kid makes you a good parent, or gives you any skills to raise them well.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 04/16/2019 - 06:18 pm.

        To the contrary, as a parent I know all to well that we get the job unprepared. But there are certain things that need not be said, things like “you have taken on a huge responsibility”; “you are on the hook to provide for that child” and most importantly, “that child deserves as much of your time as humanly possible”.

        Do these things and it’s my experience that the rest comes easily.

  4. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 04/16/2019 - 12:54 pm.

    The Strib series on child deaths in home day care settings resulted in valuable improvements in services. However, solving one problem often leads to the next. A huge number of in-home providers have left the system rather than putting up with the additional, and often see-sawing, regulatory regime — plus facing the loss of clientelle as school curricula get pushed down toward younger children. Therefore it becomes more difficult to find providers.

  5. Submitted by Kathie Noga on 04/16/2019 - 06:26 pm.

    Republicans answer to everything. Do not have it, so we have no taxes. Let people suffer. I say no way. I say they should be taking care of the children themselves if they do not want to pay for it. You can pay now or you can pay later with homeless children, suicides and women out of work.

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