Daycare costs negatively impact upward opportunity for Illinois families

Childcare costs in Illinois are among the most expensive in the nation when compared against incomes, costing the average single mother more than a third of her pay. This lack of affordable childcare is keeping workers, especially women, out of the labor force. 

Daycare programs can be important tools for many families. They allow parents to go to work or school while leaving their kids in safe hands. Unfortunately, daycare programs can be extremely expensive and take up a huge amount from a family’s budget. Daycare centers can include childcare programs, after-school programs, infant care programs, and preschools. Daycare facilities can offer games, lessons, and activities for children, in addition to any educational offerings. 

Infant and toddler childcare challenges drain an estimated $4.9 billion from Illinois’ economy every year, significantly curtailing working parents’ income and job opportunities. These costs relate to inadequate access, affordability, and quality of care for young children. For example, 58 percent of Illinoisans live in a childcare ‘desert,’ where there are more than three children under age 5 for every licensed childcare slot. The average cost of full-time, center-based, infant-toddler care was around $15,000 in 2021.  

For Illinois to begin improving childcare accessibility, the state needs to expand the number of seats at existing centers and preschools and build new ones. But to do that, the industry needs adequate staff to be able to run them. Staffing issues were made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing cost-of-living issues brought on by high inflation have made low pay in the sector even more of an issue. Between 2008 and 2018, the average cost of childcare from birth to age 5 in Illinois increased by 31.5 percent, compared to 20.3 percent for the rest of the country. 

The shortage of childcare teachers is the toughest challenge for providers. These jobs can be very stressful and intense with low pay. Childcare workers can make more money and find jobs with benefits elsewhere in the private sector. 

In October 2023, Governor Pritzker signed an Executive Order that calls for the creation of a new state agency for early childhood education and care programs. The EO orders the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS), and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to aid in the preparation of policy, regulatory, and resource changes necessary to create this state agency and promote effective interagency collaboration and system integration. One of the responsibilities of this new state agency will be to take over the daycare licensing process from DCFS. This will result in big changes to the daycare licensure process. 

Illinois House Republicans have been working on solutions to these issues through the Supporting Women and Working Families Working Group. Rep. Jackie Haas (R-Kankakee) and Rep. Amy Elik (R-Alton) introduced House Bill 4059 during the Spring 2023 session. The bill required DCFS to host licensing orientation programs to help educate potential daycare centers and home providers about the child daycare licensing process. It also required DCFS to host licensing orientation programs at least twice a year in each legislative district. This legislation would proactively inform parents and increase interest and awareness of these opportunities. 

Rep. Amy Grant (R-Wheaton) has filed House Bill 4227, which provides that certain supplies purchased by a day care center are exempt from the taxes imposed under the Use Tax Act, the Service Use Tax Act, the Service Occupation Tax Act, and the Retailers’ Occupation Tax Act. In addition, Rep. Grant filed House Bill 4229, which provides that licensed day care facilities that are actually and exclusively used for charitable or beneficent purposes are exempt from taxation under the Property Tax Code. 

“Facilities are facing significant staffing requirements combined with an ongoing shortage of qualified workers,” stated Rep. Grant. “This combination restricts the number of students a daycare operator can take in, leaving parents with few safe and quality daycare options to enroll their kids in.”