Maine’s child care industry was in crisis before the pandemic, with costs both too high for most families and too low to support providers. COVID-19 only made things worse.

That’s the topline from a new report on the growing cost of infant and toddler care in Maine, and it aligns with everything we’ve heard in recent years from parents struggling to find child care that fits their lives.

It’s also yet another reason for the Legislature to take bold, decisive action to support the child care industry and the families that depend on it.

The new report from ReadyNation, a national group of business executives focused on the labor market, reveals how the lack of affordable, high-quality child care, already bad, has worsened in recent years – the result of both the pandemic and the failure of policymakers to intervene.

Child care, particularly when infants and toddlers are involved, is extremely labor intensive. Because families can only afford so much, however, wages in the industry have always been too low.

As pay for even entry-level positions has increased across the U.S. – giving people options for work that are easier and more lucrative than taking care of young kids – child care providers have found it harder to hold on to employees.


Others left because of the dangers of working in care during the pandemic, and most of those haven’t returned.

Between 2016 and 2020, ReadyNation reports, Maine lost 27% of its child care workers. As a result, many providers have had to close, particularly in rural areas where workers are even harder to find. The state needs child care space for about 10,000 more kids. In 22% of the state, there are more than three children for every child care slot.

The lack of child care has disrupted families immensely. When a parent cannot find care, they cannot work. If their care is unreliable, they lose hours at work, or risk being let go. If the only care they can find is expensive, they have less money to spend on other essentials. If it’s far from home, it adds to their costs and takes away valuable time.

That will sound familiar to Maine parents, who, on average, pay 12% of the median annual income of a married couple for child care each year. Any share higher than 7% is considered unaffordable. The average annual cost for infant care in Maine is now nearly $12,000 a year.

Maine’s child care industry is not helping anyone. It’s too expensive for families. It doesn’t produce enough revenue for providers. It keeps people from working, harming businesses who desperately need to hire.

In all, ReadyNation estimates the lack of child care costs Maine $403 million a year in lost earnings, productivity and tax revenue. More than that, it keeps Maine families from living the lives they want to lead.


Maine has taken action in recent years. In 2021, Gov. Mills signed into law a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson that gives a successful child care program in Somerset County a chance to work statewide. She also put tens of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 response funds toward grants to help child care providers bridge the industry’s cost gap.

Those federal funds, however, will run out soon. Forget making improvements – if nothing is done to replace those funds, it could be disastrous for providers who are barely getting by as it is.

Another bill from Sen. Jackson would help. L.D. 1726, which passed its committee on a divided vote this week, would give more money to families to pay for child care, and more to providers to pay wages. It would also increase eligibility and reduce barriers to the subsidy program, with a focus on low-income families. It would also require the state to put in place by 2030 a plan to make child care affordable for most families.

Jackson’s bill recognizes the problems and takes step to fix them. Legislators should make it law – then watch closely to determine what else should be done to strengthen an industry that is critical to helping families succeed.

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