Go Ask ALICE – Child Care Front and Center

The phrase “go ask ALICE” may have been a lyric a few decades ago, but today it is taking on renewed significance when assessing the day-to-day life challenges of a surprisingly large segment of Connecticut’s population, an updated report by Connecticut United Ways shows. In Connecticut, 1-in-4 households have earnings that exceed the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) but fall short of a basic cost of living threshold. The United Way has defined these households as ALICE-an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and together with the 10% of Connecticut households in poverty, more than one-third of Connecticut households (35%) are struggling to make ends meet.MonthlyExpenses_Pie

The original analysis revealed last fall has now been updated and expended with new data, which indicates that cost of child care is a significant burden, and that child care is “often the single-largest expense for families with young children.”

The Connecticut ALICE Report estimates that the cost of child care for two children (1 preschooler and 1 infant) is at least 28% of the monthly expenses included in the Household Survival Budget for a family of four. In a newly released ALICE Update, the latest available cost data from 2-1-1 Child Care is used to examine the biggest child care challenges facing ALICE families in Connecticut:

  1. Child care is often the single-largest expense for families with young children, with limited options for affordable infant and toddler care posing a significant challenge. This is especially true for ALICE families.
  2. Child care subsidies are available for working families, but some ALICE families have earnings that exceed the eligibility threshold, and others struggle to cover the difference between the subsidy and the provider fee.
  3. Availability and cost of child care varies throughout the state, limiting options for ALICE families who may not be able to find child care providers they can afford that are located near where they work or live.
  4. There are limited child care options that are available during evening, night, or weekend shifts. 2nd shift, 3rd shift, and weekend hours are more common among low- to moderate-income ALICE workers. When work schedules are unpredictable, and vary from week to week, it can be hard for ALICE families to find child care when they need it.

ALICEForumSiteThe most recent fee data available from 2-1-1 Child Care estimates the statewide average cost of full-time child care in a licensed center-based day care setting is $211/week for 1 preschooler and $253/week for an infant, which adds up to $2,011 per month. This may be less than what many Connecticut families pay for child care each month, due to variations in cost and availability throughout the state, differences in family size, and other costs associated with child care that are not included—such as the cost of alternate care arrangements when the child care setting is closedChildCareFamily

The report indicates that statewide, the average weekly cost of Infant/Toddler care ranges from $135 to $400 in Home-Based settings and from $175 to $400 in Center-Based settings. The high cost of Infant/Toddler care creates the greatest burden, as the weekly cost amounts to the highest percentage of median income in both Home-Based (30.9%) and Center-Based (48.8%) settings in Hartford, where the median income is $29,430/year.

Adding to the challenge posed by the high cost of Infant/Toddler care is the fact that its availability varies throughout the state. There are six municipalities in the state that have no licensed Center- or Home-Based Infant/Toddler child care providers at all, and 15 that only have a single provider offering Infant/Toddler care in their town. A total of 52 Connecticut towns have two to five providers of Infant/Toddler care, and the remaining 96 municipalities have at least six providers who offer Infant/Toddler care.

The report also indicates that “there are limited child care options available during evening, night or weekend shifts, and it can be hard for ALICE families to find childcare when they need it.”  The vast majority of Center-Based child care providers in Connecticut do not offer evening or weekend care, according to the report. Another challenge for ALICE workers without stable, predictable work schedules is that child care providers are typically paid for a full week of care in advance, whether the care is ultimately used or not. When work schedules change from week to week or on short notice, ALICE families may end up paying for child care that they do not use.

In November 2014, Connecticut United Ways released the first statewide ALICE Report, a data-driven, comprehensive research project that quantifies the situation confronting many low-income working families across our state - in our urban, suburban and rural communities. The Report documents that the number of Connecticut households unable to afford all of life's basic necessities far exceeds the official federal poverty statistics.