Despite Marathon County’s poor record on child care, resolution proposes weakening oversight of in-home providers

Despite Marathon County’s poor record on child care, resolution proposes weakening oversight of in-home providers

Damakant Jayshi Over objections from licensed child care providers, a Marathon County committee on Thursday passed a resolution that aims to cut child care support and also weaken oversight of small in-home child care providers by reducing regulations. The resolution, approved by the Extension, Education, and Economic Development Committee, not only seeks to prohibit using […]

The post Despite Marathon County’s poor record on child care, resolution proposes weakening oversight of in-home providers appeared first on Wausau Pilot & Review.

Oregon Leadership on Child Care Front and Center at White House Event

White House takes a page from the Oregon playbook with recent calls to cap child care payments at 7% of a family’s income and other improvements to increase access SALEM, Ore. – During last week’s White House’s States Convening on Child Care in Washington, D.C., State Representative Lisa Reynolds (D-Washington County) highlighted Oregon’s leadership to […]

The post Oregon Leadership on Child Care Front and Center at White House Event appeared first on Highway 58 Herald.

Can’t find child care for your infant in Wisconsin? You’re not alone. Industry experts break down why it’s so difficult.

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Parents have a lot to worry about when preparing for a baby: their health, hospital bills, whether or not the delivery goes smoothly — the list goes on and on. But another concern is becoming more prominent.

“(Child care) has literally been the biggest stress of my entire pregnancy — not knowing exactly where our baby is going to go, if they’re going to be safe, and just knowing the waitlists are so long and the astronomical prices,” said Menasha’s Hannah Wainio, who’s expecting her first child in late July.

Hannah and her husband, Grant, started their child care search as soon as they learned she was pregnant at five weeks. When Hannah spoke to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in June, the family still had not found care.

Their story isn’t unique. In Outagamie County, there are over 1,200 children younger than 2 on regulated child care waitlists, according to data recently compiled by Child Care Resource & Referral Fox Valley. In Winnebago County, there are nearly 550.

In Family and Child Care Resources of Northeast Wisconsin’s service area, infant waitlists can span one to two years, said executive director Paula Breese. CCR&R Fox Valley’s executive director, Candy Hall, said wait times can be over five years.

Because of this, it’s increasingly common for parents to get on wait lists even before they conceive. Six months before Ripon’s Ashley Giese found out she was expecting her fourth child, she told her child care provider she was trying to get pregnant. In New Glarus, Abby Funseth timed the conception of her second child around a child care opening.

“People plan all of the things they need and the logistics of waking up at night (to feed their infant), those are things you expect as a new parent. But you don’t always expect an 18-month waiting list for daycare,” Giese said.

Why is care for infants, specifically, so difficult to find?

The financial model most child care programs in Wisconsin operate within is flawed, said Kelly Matthews, co-director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association’s shared services network.

Aside from funds from Child Care Counts, the state’s monthly stabilization payment program, which is set to expire in early 2024, the price parents pay for care is often the only revenue centers see, Matthews said. This has to cover myriad costs, including utilities, rent or mortgage, insurance, personnel costs and more.

Nicole Leitermann, of Impressions Family Child Care, holds baby Luke Stefl as the other children watch on June 8, 2022, in Kimberly, Wis. (Wm. Glasheen / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Providers often charge parents less than the actual cost of care — all costs of running the child care facility, from bills to livable wages and benefits for the educators — in an attempt to keep prices manageable. And that’s with child care workers being notoriously underpaid compared to those with similar credentials in other fields.

Child care businesses are left to survive on thin profit margins — typically 1% to 2%, while most businesses’ profit margins span 10% to 20%, according to research compiled by the Greater Fox Valley Child Care Alliance.

Licensed child care programs in Wisconsin are also subject to regulations aimed at ensuring infants get age-appropriate care, Matthews said.

In a licensed family child care setting — a child care business based in the provider’s home — the number of children younger than age 2 present often limits the total number of children it can serve full time, which also limits its revenue.

In group centers, staff-to-child ratios allow for more children per staff member as children get older. For example, one staff member can either supervise four children younger than 2, or six children ages 2 to 2½.

“Without (funding) based on the true cost of care, it is a better financial decision for child care programs to take children 2 and older than it is for them to take infants, which (leaves) both programs and families struggling,” Matthews said. “The issue is the (lack) of revenue coming in, not the ratios.”

Caring for infants is often more labor-intensive than caring for older children, as infants typically require more one-on-one interaction, according to First 5 Fox Valley Director Barb Tengesdal. It’s also harder on providers’ bodies, with all of the bending and lifting, according to Corrine Hendrickson, a licensed family child care provider in New Glarus.

As a result, there’s often high turnover among infant teachers.

What happens when families can’t find care?

Even searching for care well before their infant is due doesn’t always guarantee families a spot — let alone one they can afford. According to Child Care Aware of America, the average cost of center-based infant care in Wisconsin in 2022 was $13,572, and the average price of infant care for in a family child care was $10,400. Both surpass the cost of a year of in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As soon as she knew her pregnancy was viable, Allyssa Thomas, a Milwaukee-area teacher, began contacting centers, many of which required nonrefundable waitlist fees. Based on the responses, she doesn’t expect a slot will open by the time her maternity leave ends.

While Thomas is confident she can piece together care for a few months if needed, she said if it takes too long, she might need to leave her job.

“I’d imagine that either myself or my husband would need to choose not to work, at least for a year while our child is still an infant, which would be hard,” Thomas said. “Child care is expensive, but paying for child care with two incomes is (more feasible) than going down to one income.”

Parents may also turn to their own parents when they cannot find an opening. Carolyn Nelson’s mother drives five hours each week between her home in Beloit and Nelson’s home in Appleton to care for Nelson’s 6-month-old daughter, Emma.

Carolyn Nelson, right, is pictured with her mother, Gloria Mathews, and her then 5-month-old daughter, Emma. Carolyn and her husband rely on Mathews to drive 2.5 hours to take care of Emma while they work. (Wm. Glasheen / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

This allows Nelson to continue working as a Help Me Grow navigator with ThedaCare, helping connect families with early childhood resources and information — for now. Nelson worries about what will happen if a spot doesn’t open before winter, when ice and snow may prevent her mother from traveling.

“If there’s still no child care, where do I put Emma every day?” Nelson asked. “Can I work through her nap times and have her home with me? To be quite honest, that sounds like I will be burnt out in two months. Would I be able to (leave work temporarily) and return once I get child care? Would that even be an option?”

On one hand, Nelson said she can’t help but wish she looked sooner, starting months before Emma was born. At the same time, she knows doing so could’ve had unforeseen drawbacks.

“I would have been pretty crushed to get a phone call saying that there’s a spot opening on a waitlist if I was no longer pregnant (due to medical complications),” Nelson said.

When parents can’t find an infant opening at a high-quality child care, they may be forced to leave the workforce, turn to lower-quality options or patch care together from a variety of sources.

Tammy Dannhoff, a licensed family child care provider in Oshkosh, said consistency is key for a young child’s development, and the early months and years are the prime time for children to develop secure relationships with caregivers.

This led Dannhoff to bend the rules a few summers ago to add a second child younger than 2 to her program. Under licensing regulations, she was supposed to care for only one child younger than 2 if she wanted eight slots, the maximum number a licensed family provider can have.

“When I was talking with his mom, I found out he was going to be going to three or four different places every week in the summer because she had to piece together care for him,” Dannhoff said. “At the time, he was 22 months, and I thought, ‘It’s going to be more detrimental for him to go to three or four different places for child care, so I’m going to take the risk and just take him.’”

Dannhoff was able to get an exception so she remained in compliance. Department of Children and Families Communications Director Gina Paige said there’s a flow chart of sorts that helps determine when exceptions should be granted, but some family child care providers said they feel these exceptions are granted inconsistently.

What can be done?

The solution to the care shortage for children up to age 2 doesn’t lie in doing away with regulations or increasing staff-to-child ratios.

“That, I believe, would be the fastest way to close down more of the under-2 rooms,” said Brooke Skidmore, co-owner and director of The Growing Tree, a child care center in New Glarus. “You will not find teachers that want to have five babies under their care, and it still will not make it profitable.”

Matthews thinks the solution to the infant care crisis lies in funding child care businesses based on the true cost of care.

Gloria Mathews cares for her then 5-month-old granddaughter, Emma, on June 20 in Appleton. Due to a lack of childcare, Carolyn Nelson and her husband rely on her mom to drive 2.5 hours from Beloit to take care of Emma when she needs to work. (Wm. Glasheen / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

“If we had true cost of care for payment amounts … it would still get the bills paid and not be a loss for the program,” Matthews said.

Increasing tuition rates often comes with the risk of making child care unattainable for families. Matthews said finding a path forward will require collaboration between communities, employers, families and the government.

Angel Berry, the executive director of the nonprofit A Million Dreamz child care in Sheboygan, said solutions lie in creative funding models. For example, she said, child care businesses could make infant care sustainable by operating under a nonprofit model and seeking funding support from the community.

However, in the meantime, some say slight alterations to state licensing requirements could help.

After Dannhoff investigated ways to change family child care requirements for a college capstone project in 2021, she said she supports employing a “weighted” system that distinguishes between young infants and children 18 months and older. The younger children would have a higher “weight” than the older children, essentially making a spot at a family child care available for another child once an infant turns 18-months-old instead of 2 years.

Hendrickson, who also supports this change, explained that by 18 months, children are typically more mobile and better able to verbalize their needs. The Wisconsin Family Child Care Association has long discussed the exact weights each particular age group would be assigned. As of now, however, WFCCA has not brought any formal proposals to DCF.

While Hendrickson said this change could help get families off waitlists and into consistent care more quickly, she said it alone cannot rectify Wisconsin’s infant care shortage.

“It’s definitely not a solution, per se, for the crisis because it’s not going to even come close to fixing the problem, but it would be one potential way to alleviate some of the pressure,” Hendrickson said.

Employers have a role to play, too. Providing and extending paid family leave gives parents essential time to bond with their infant as well as more time to search for child care, Tengesdal said. For industries in which flexible scheduling is possible, allowing parents to work from home, bring their child to work when needed, and reduced hours after birth helps both parents and babies adjust, she said.

Many of the potential solutions advocates say could bolster Wisconsin’s child care sector in general would, by extension, help solve the infant care crisis, Hendrickson said. These range from significant state and federal investments to shifting the way society views child care.

“If there is no infant care, the likelihood of a mother returning to work is significantly reduced,” Hendrickson said. “This impacts her family’s financial wellbeing, her career trajectory, her mental health and the growth and development of her child.”

Can’t find child care for your infant in Wisconsin? You’re not alone. Industry experts break down why it’s so difficult. is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

To Expand Childcare Access, Daycare Centers and Nursery Schools May Soon Be Allowed in All Sections of Village of Red Hook

Vermont’s new child care law makes the state a national leader — but falls short of the movement’s goals

Kids attending the Part 2 Kids childcare hub at the Allen Brook School in Williston eat breakfast after morning meeting in September 2020. H.217, which was recently enacted into last week after legislators overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s veto, will inject more than $120 million annually into Vermont’s child care system. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

On the very first day of summer, many of Vermont’s top politicos gathered on the Statehouse lawn for a cheeky kind of bill-signing ceremony. They were there to celebrate H.217, which will inject more than $120 million annually into Vermont’s child care system, getting enacted into law.

Gov. Phil Scott had vetoed the bill — he objected to the 0.44% payroll tax that will partially fund the measure — but lawmakers overrode him by comfortable margins the day before Wednesday’s photo op.

And so, since the governor would not sign it, the children would. A large-scale printout of the bill was propped up on a tripod, and, after the speeches wrapped up, Senate Majority Leader Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, stood at the ready, colored markers in hand.

“Anybody who is under four feet tall, please come forward,” her colleague, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden Central, instructed the small crowd of lawmakers, lobbyists, advocates and their children. “We have markers for you. You have to finish the job today.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P- Chittenden Central, at the Statehouse in May. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Advocates and Democratic lawmakers, who had made child care one of their banner priorities for the session, had reason to celebrate. Taking into account regular federal funding and the state money Vermont already spends on prekindergarten vouchers, the measure will roughly double the public dollars spent on early childhood education in the state. Just weeks before, the wonky online outlet Vox had declared the new law would make Vermont “a national leader on child care.” 

But in America, the bar is low. The U.S. is an outlier among rich, industrialized nations in how little it invests in early childhood education. And advocates and experts alike say that while Vermont’s new law will make significant progress, it will not, by itself, actually fix a broken child care system.

“This is a great downpayment on a child care system that works for parents and providers. It is not the full investment,” Elliot Haspel, a national expert who testified before lawmakers about the bill, told VTDigger.

“If all there ever is, is $120 million — maybe a little bit more — if we ask ourselves 10 years from now, ‘What’s the child care system in Vermont going to look like?’ It’s not going to look radically different than it does today. It’s going to be moderately more affordable. It’s going to be moderately better paid,” he said.

The problem of child care is simple math. Because it requires very low adult-to-children ratios, it is enormously labor-intensive to deliver. But because most families must pay out of pocket for the service, providers set their tuition far below the true cost of care. The result is prices that families still struggle to pay — and wages that leave child care workers unable to make ends meet. Basic benefits, like health insurance, remain out of reach for much of the workforce.

Vermont’s new child care measure is designed to mitigate that problem in two ways: by dramatically expanding which families are eligible for child care subsidies, and raising the rate (by 35%) at which the state reimburses providers who participate in the subsidy program.

The new subsidy system will be enacted in several phases, but by October 2024, families making up to 575% of the federal poverty level — that’s $172,000 for a family of four — will be eligible for partial subsidies. That will extend state aid to an estimated 80% of families, offering help to a greater share of the population than any other state in the country.

“The fact that Vermont has the subsidy going up to over 500% of the federal poverty level makes it very unique,” said Diane Schilder, a senior fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

But how those new subsidies actually impact a family’s bottom line will depend on whether, or how much, a provider chooses to raise their tuition to match the state’s increased reimbursement rates. If providers increase their prices at the same rate as reimbursements, the new subsidies were designed to basically hold families harmless — not make out-of-pocket costs much cheaper.

And while Vermont will extend help to more families than anywhere else, one state has it beat when it comes to how many families will receive entirely free care. New Mexico, where voters in 2022 approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to child care, offers no-cost care to anyone making up to 400% of the federal poverty level (that’s $120,000 a year for a family of four). A family making that much in Vermont will still pay estimated co-pays of $1,000 a month. 

Advocates and, in a 2021 law, legislators themselves set the goal that families receiving state aid would not pay more than 10% of their household income on child care. This year’s measure “does not achieve that,” Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, the chair of the House Human Services Committee, matter-of-factly told VTDigger. 

Rep. Theresa Wood, D-Waterbury, chair of the House Human Services Committee, speaks at the Statehouse in March. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“We are in fact raising the cost of child care in the state because we are addressing something that has gone unaddressed — which is payments of fair wages to people in the early care and learning sector,” Wood said.

But the new subsidy structure will nevertheless provide a dramatic improvement in affordability to one set of families: those with more than one child in care.

“The second child is free. If you have a second child, you don’t pay (another) copay. And I think that is something that is not widely understood,” Wood said. “That could make a huge difference.”

On the other side of the equation, Vermont’s latest measure may not necessarily raise workers’ wages as much as advocates had hoped. H.217 significantly raises reimbursement rates — but not by as much as was recommended in a study commissioned by lawmakers and completed this winter. That same report found that Vermont faced a funding gap of up to $279 million to meet its child care goals. This year’s bill invests a little less than half of that.

The new law also doesn’t require providers to raise wages, although it does state that lawmakers may do so in the future, and a report on child care worker wages is due back to the Legislature in January 2026. For Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, that’s a key part of this year’s unfinished business.

“I think the workforce question is another one that remains open,” she said. “Will this be enough infusion to really solve the workforce problems that we’re seeing in early childhood education or will we continue to struggle to find high quality people to take these jobs and stay at these jobs?”

Hundreds of people gathered in support of affordable child care for Vermonters outside the Statehouse in April. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

Hardy also advocated strongly, at the outset of the session, to move Vermont to full-day pre-kindergarten. She was unsuccessful, but the bill does create an “implementation committee” tasked with setting out a plan for getting Vermont to full-day, publicly funded prekindergarten for 4-year-olds by July of 2026.

Most stakeholders agree that the 10 hour-a-week voucher Vermont currently offers to the families of 3- and 4-year-olds for prekindergarten isn’t enough. But setting aside the question of finding additional funding, changing the system might still be tricky politically. 

The vouchers have become a key source of revenue for private child care providers, who are anxious that expansions in public school-based prekindergarten programs could mean an exodus of staff to better-paid settings, and who argue that schools don’t offer the year-round care that families need. But further investments in a mixed-delivery system also make certain lawmakers nervous in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that complicate the guardrails states can impose on such vouchers.

As Vermont contemplates further work on early childhood education, Schilder said lawmakers need to think seriously about how to help providers navigate the complicated patchwork of state and federal programs that currently fund the sector, including by building out state-level capacity to smoothly administer such programs. And she also argued Vermont will have to think seriously about how to meet the needs of parents who work nights and weekends.

“If you have a fully funded system that provides full day care, it doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of the more than a third of young children who have parents who work non-traditional hours,” she said. 

Like Haspel, she’s also emphatic that while Vermont should celebrate what it has done, this measure invests only a fraction of what’s needed. To offer a child care system that looks like what’s generally offered elsewhere in industrialized nations, she said, a low-end estimate of the state’s total spend would have to approach $700 million.

“This is making a dent and not necessarily addressing the entire problem,” she said.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Vermont’s new child care law makes the state a national leader — but falls short of the movement’s goals.

Child care overhaul becomes law as legislators override veto

People hold up signs in support of teachers and children at the Let’s Grow Kids rally outside the Statehouse in Montpelier on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Photo by Natalie Williams/VTDigger

As predicted, lawmakers on Tuesday easily overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of H.217, a bill set to invest well over $120 million annually into Vermont’s ailing child care sector, enacting the measure into law. 

The only surprise, at the end of the day, was how quickly it all happened. The House voted early in the day, 116 to 31, to override Scott. (It takes a two-thirds majority to override a gubernatorial veto.) And as of early afternoon, the plan remained for the Senate to take up the measure on Wednesday, followed by a noontime celebration with advocates, parents, and child care workers on the Statehouse lawn. But as the whirlwind day wore on, the upper chamber decided to conclude its business ahead of schedule, and voted 23 to 7 to override Scott.

“The child care bill which we overrode today is, I believe, a historic achievement,” Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden Central, told his colleagues after the vote.

He encouraged senators to attend the event with advocates, still planned for Wednesday. “It will be, I think, a joyous celebration,” he said.

The child care legislation is intended to help mitigate twin problems in the labor-intensive sector: poverty wages for many workers, and sky-high prices for families.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2024, the state will reimburse child care providers at a rate 35% higher than they did this year — enabling them to significantly raise wages.

Currently, families living at or below 150% of the federal poverty level are not charged a co-payment to receive a full subsidy from the state. The bill would eliminate co-pays for those making up to 175% of that metric, increasing that threshold from $45,000 to $52,500 for a family of four. And the bill would extend partial child care subsidies to families up to 575% of the federal poverty level — $172,000 for a family of four.

The bill is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of advocacy from Let’s Grow Kids, a well-funded nonprofit that has led the charge on child care in Montpelier. But the cause was also strengthened by the Covid-19 pandemic, which underlined both the sector’s fragility and importance to the state economy, and a new Democratic supermajority in the House and Senate, which moved aggressively to enact several new expansions to the social safety net. 

But while Democrats and Progressives universally supported the bill, votes did not fall entirely on party lines — a few Republicans and independents also backed the measure.

“This is a historic, celebratory moment for Vermont, one that child care advocates, parents, employers, and lawmakers have been working towards for years,” Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, said in a statement. “The 2023 Child Care Bill will change the lives of thousands of Vermonters and is a monumental step forward for our state in addressing the ongoing child care crisis.”

The bill will be funded in part by a new 0.44% payroll tax, which is why Scott objected to the legislation. The Republican governor has long supported additional investments in early childhood education, but has always drawn the line at raising taxes to do it. The draft state budget he presented to lawmakers in January included $50 million to boost child care subsidies, a proposal legislators incorporated into their own financing mechanism. 

Read the story on VTDigger here: Lawmakers override Gov. Scott’s child care veto.

Rising cost of living in northeast Wisconsin has many working families treading water 

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Shannon Pikka loves the work-life balance of her job in construction. She left an office job in insurance and now enjoys being up early and working with her hands as part of a drywall finishing crew. The single mother’s workday ends around 3 p.m. — just in time to greet her two children from school.

“Kids are coming home at that time, and we got the whole evening now together,” Pikka said. “Our job should not dictate our lifestyle.”

Despite changing careers nearly four years ago, she’s still earning apprentice wages due to setbacks during the pandemic when her youngest was in third grade and schools switched to distance learning. 

“I would be a journeywoman right now had I had a babysitting option so I could have still shown up for work and gained all those hours in the year — so that set me back,” the De Pere, Wisconsin resident said. 

The difference is a full $9 an hour. As it is, she’s making just shy of $27 an hour. But with two school-aged kids in her household, paying all of the bills is a stretch. Pikka gets no child support, and she relies on her parents who live nearby to provide child care for the days she needs to be at a remote jobsite for days or even weeks at a time.

“I’m just trying to make ends meet,” she said. 

But government statistics show many in the community earn a lot less than she does. 

The state Department of Workforce Development estimates that two adults working full-time earning $25.54 an hour each is just enough to be self-sufficient in a household with two children when factoring in the cost of housing, transportation, food and child care. 

The average wage in Green Bay, according to the most recent federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report, was $26.29 in 2022. But the median earnings were $21.84 an hour, meaning that half of workers earn less than that.

In other words, many workers supporting families in northeast Wisconsin are just squeaking by, especially at a time when the cost of living is increasing in Wisconsin and across the nation. 

“Self-sufficiency is attainable for the majority of full-time workers if children are not involved,” wrote DWD spokesperson Jennifer Sereno. “However, the situation rapidly changes when just one child is brought into the picture, let alone multiple.”

That’s because the cost of child care can rival tuition at a state university, the Wisconsin Policy Forum wrote in a recent report. A state survey of child-care facilities found the annual median cost for school-aged children starts at around $10,000 but can be as much as $40,000 a year for high-quality infant care in urban areas like Green Bay and Oshkosh. 

Earnings too high to qualify for benefits

Pikka’s household has no second income, yet she is still well above the level to qualify for many public assistance programs.

Her story represents a growing segment of Wisconsin’s working population: those earning too much to qualify for most public assistance programs but too little to afford anything but basic necessities. United Way studies this group of people known as ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Its latest report shows 23% of Wisconsinites fit into this category.

Shannon Pikka is a single mother and a union drywall finisher. Like many in northeast Wisconsin, she dreams of owning a home but does not make enough money to buy. She hopes a promotion to journey status will allow her to become a homeowner. She is seen on a job site on June 2, 2023, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. (Sarah Kloepping / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Help such as food assistance through the state’s FoodShare program, subsidized child care under the Wisconsin Shares program care and BadgerCare Plus health insurance are not available to many such families, including Pikka’s. 

“These are people who are working,” said Trisha Witt, who works in advocacy for United Way Fox Cities in Appleton. “They’re earning more than the federal poverty level but less than Wisconsin’s basic cost of living.”

When you add in the 11% of people living below the poverty line, the percentage of Wisconsinites struggling financially is 34%, according to the United Way report.

In northeast Wisconsin, the figures are similar, except in urban areas, where the numbers are starker. In Oshkosh, for example 41% of residents are either below poverty or not making enough for basic needs. 

Barriers to prosperity

It’s not due to a lack of employment. Official unemployment is at record lows with federal agencies reporting Wisconsin at a record 2.4% in April. Northeast Wisconsin was hovering at 2% or less. 

But while very few able-bodied adults are outside of the workforce, lack of affordable child care and transportation can keep people from working and meeting their basic needs. 

“No matter what the economic conditions are like,” said Ryan Long, a regional economist for the state Department of Workforce Development in Green Bay, “we know for certain that there are going to be folks who face barriers to work.”

On paper, Pikka has been relatively successful. For 15 years she sold insurance but entered the trades after becoming disillusioned with a desk job. But a string of abusive partners who ended up incarcerated or moving out of state has left her the sole breadwinner for her family.

Her life had been full of hardship from when she was left at a hospital in Colombia where she was born and never picked up. Pikka spent the next three years in an overcrowded South American orphanage where she said she suffered physical abuse.

“I have scars on my body because the nuns could not control the orphanage, so they beat us up,” she said. 

At age 4, a pair of school teachers adopted her and raised her in northeast Wisconsin. If it wasn’t for her parents helping with child care, Pikka said she could never maintain her higher paying career in construction.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said. “I’d have to go back to my office job.” 

The dearth of affordable child care in Wisconsin is well-documented. The staff shortage in day care centers itself has a ripple effect. On paper, there are roughly 37,500 slots for children in the 19 counties in northeast Wisconsin. But a survey last year of 1,173 child care centers in Wisconsin found nearly half were below capacity. 

“It is important to note that this is licensed capacity and providers may not be using all slots due to staffing shortages, low enrollment, or other factors,” wrote Gina Paige, a spokesperson for the state Department of Children and Families, which licenses day care facilities.

Hot housing market constrained by supply, rising interest rates

Affordable housing is another key to family sustainability. But a shortage of supply has driven up rental prices across the board.

“It doesn’t really matter what the availability of jobs is like if young folks are getting priced out of certain areas because housing is too expensive,” Long said.

Real estate data show that housing prices across the state continue to rise even as sales slump due to constrained supply and rising interest rates that have added to the cost of borrowing.

In April 2023, the median house in northeast Wisconsin cost $260,000. That’s $23,000 less than the statewide median. But the median cost rose 7% across the region in the previous year, similar to the increase statewide. 

Rental housing is out of reach for many residents of northeast Wisconsin, according to U.S. Census figures analyzed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. This for rent sign is outside a duplex in 2020 in De Pere, Wis. (Sarah Kloepping / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

All this happened while real estate transactions slumped after interest rates spiked from historic lows at below 3% to around 6.6% for a fixed 30-year loan in May. 

The numbers are stark: There were more than 1,500 residential home sales in June 2022, just as the Fed hiked interest rates for a third time in response to inflation fears. Ten months later in April of this year, the region saw half as many closed deals at 777.

Property owners who are locked in with relatively low interest rates are less likely to list their homes now because they’d pay higher rates on their next property, said real estate broker Kevin Jones, co-owner of Adashun Jones in Fond du Lac.

“There are more people pursuing the few properties that are on the market,” he said.

Houses harder to find, more expensive to rent

The region has already faced supply constraints as Baby Boomers live longer and stay put, leaving fewer properties for younger aspiring homeowners.

“We have healthy Baby Boomers — I’m one of them — who are staying in their homes longer, and millennials who are clamoring to find homes and are at a disadvantage because they increasingly have to rely on borrowed money,” Marquette University economics professor David Clark said at a recent economics forum.

He said many millennials of child-bearing age — those born in the 1980s and ‘90s — “kind of got dealt a bad hand” coming out of the Great Recession with a weak labor market and so “logically and rationally stayed out of the market” during the time when working Americans would tend purchase first homes.

Jones, the real estate broker and Fox Valley landlord, said the rental housing market is also hot with rents increasing by 10% to 20% annually. 

“I think it’s because a lot of the rentals have been consolidated into a small group of investors — that’s one side of the story,” he said. “And the other side is there’s just not enough homes and developments that are being created.”

In 2022, the National Low Income Housing Coalition — an advocacy group — listed the fair market price for a two-bedroom unit in northeast Wisconsin at between $757 in rural counties to $889 in the Oshkosh area . The study, citing U.S. Census figures, also found the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in counties across northeast Wisconsin — for that matter, across the entire state — is higher than the recommended 30% of the average income renters in those counties make. 

Home ownership remains elusive for Pikka. For three years, she has rented a two-bedroom apartment for $875 in De Pere where she enjoys living despite the higher housing prices compared to neighboring Green Bay. Once she works enough hours for journeyman wages, she said she’ll try to buy something.

But Pikka, who is 41, said that’s at least three years away. In the meantime she is pursuing another dream. Pikka would like to visit Colombia with her kids to reconnect with her birth parents.

This story is part of the NEW (Northeast Wisconsin) News Lab’s series, Families Matter, covering issues important to families in the region. The lab is a local news collaboration in northeast Wisconsin made up of six news organizations: the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Appleton Post-Crescent, FoxValley365, The Press Times, Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Watch. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Journalism Department is an educational partner. Microsoft is providing financial support to the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region to fund the initiative. The mission of the lab is to “collaborate to identify and fill information gaps to help residents explore ways to improve their communities and lives — and strengthen democracy.”

Rising cost of living in northeast Wisconsin has many working families treading water  is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.

Este lunes 8 de mayo, 600 daycares cierran para protestar

El próximo Lunes, 8 de Mayo, se realizará el Dia Nacional Sin Cuidado Infantil (Sin Daycares) donde los proveedores de cuidado de niños cerrarán sus negocios para pedir apoyo del gobierno nacional por:

Un sistema de cuidado infantil equitativo, basado en la justicia racial y de género.
Salarios dignos para los cuidadores infantiles
Guarderías asequibles para todas las familias

Se estima que alrededor de 600 daycares estarán cerrando este lunes en todo el país.

El evento es organizado por Community Change Action, una organización nacional que se encarga de crear movimientos sociales para luchar contra la injusticia y poder del voto para el cambio.

“Después de la pandemia, el American’s Child Care se encuentra en crisis. El COVID-19 devastó una industria que ya contaba con fondos insuficientes y ahora los padres y los proveedores de cuidado infantil están luchando por mantenerse. Los líderes en el movimiento como Parent Voices han estado recopilando historias y voces de costa a costa. Necesitamos que el Congreso actúe ahora para aprobar el paquete de reconciliación con $450 billones para el cuidado de niños” se lee en el website.

Los daycares(jardines infantiles) que quieran  participar deberán llenar la forma para unirse y revisar los materiales para el día de acción. En Wisconsin, varias ciudades y negocios planean cerrar este lunes.

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