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Child Care Gaps Identified by Co-Lab

Child care employment in Erie County is 80% of what it was in 2018, according to the “The True Cost of Child Care: Erie County, NY” final report, published Sept. 15 by ILR’s Buffalo Co-Lab and Erie County.

Another major finding is that licensed providers are serving fewer than one in three children living in Erie County households where all adults are working.

Funded by Erie County and supplemented with New York state funds allocated to the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, the study builds on the Phase One report issued earlier this year and analyzes data on the child care industry and workforce for both Erie County and the state.

The report, credited by Buffalo Co-Lab Director Cathy Creighton as influential in significantly increasing subsidies for child care in the 2022 state budget, revealed that in Erie County:

  • 80% of child care professionals earn below the living wage, compared to 45% of all other workers;
  • 31% of child care workers rely on Medicaid, 19% are eligible for public assistance income, and 18% receive SNAP benefits;
  • 88% of child care workers are women and 29% are women of color.

Lou Jean Fleron, senior political economy consultant at the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, coauthored the report with Russell Weaver, Co-Lab research director.

“The release of the report is more than an announcement of important new public information on the critical sector of early child care and education – although it is that,” Fleron said. “It’s also a celebration of the power of informed grassroots activism and the effectiveness of a collaborative local government approach to a historic emergency. Live Well Erie Emergency Child Care Task Force, with its diverse and dedicated networks, has been a terrific partner in this year-long action research project.”

Analysis quantified the gaps between the actual costs of care and New York’s subsidy rates. As a result, the study informed public policy and helped improve child care funding in this year’s state budget, she said at a press conference attended by 100 people.

Data revealed that equity remains a long way off, Fleron said. “Child care workers earn less than half the median wages of all other workers in Erie County, and across New York, the median wages in child care are below the state’s minimum wage. The 2022 subsidy increases help close cost gaps, but only cover 49% of the increase needed to pay child care professionals a living wage.”

“Momentum is growing for real reform of child care, in our community, as it is around the country. This report is a source of detailed industry and workforce data that can inform policy and practice innovations. It supports today’s call to action for transformation of the nation’s child care into a public good, into a system that works for everyone, and is worthy of our children’s future.”

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