Survey: SW La. families continue at a disadvantage following pandemic, hurricanes

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A new publication from the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children and the Louisiana Department of Education reveals the difficulties parents of young children are still grappling with due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and hurricane recovery. According to “Now More Than Ever: A Snapshot of How Louisiana Working Families Rely on Child Care” reports that some difficulties are impacting Southwest Louisiana families especially.

The study surveyed parents from across the state from Oct. 10 through Nov. 3, 2021, and revealed that half of parents were concerned about being able to afford child care, Marlin Hollins, Urban League of Louisiana director of community engagement, said.

While affordability concerns are widespread, they disproportionately impact families in certain regions and income brackets.

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“Southwest Louisiana, northwest Louisiana and those with incomes between $30,000 and $100,000 per year were more likely to be concerned about the inability to afford child care than other regions of the state.”

Additionally, while 25 percent of parents reported difficulties finding their current child care arrangements, families in Southwest Louisiana and the Capitol region reported higher-than-average rates of difficulties.

Despite the difficulties securing child care, in 2021 more than 80 percent of families surveyed reported having to rely on outside-of-the-home childcare — an increase from 2020’s data. Scott Tippet, Save the Children Action Network state manager, said half of parents surveyed experienced some kind of adjustment to their work or school schedule in order to take advantage of child care, including “working remotely or outside of business hours.”

Speaking of accommodating his own small children, he said, “It’s certainly long hours. Sometimes it’s 10 o’clock at night and I’m still working.”

Conversely, individuals and families with incomes below $20,000 are twice as likely to quit their jobs to care for children resulting in a $1.3 billion annual loss to Louisiana’s economy.

“This is an issue that affects all of us, not just those of us with young children at home,” he said.

Bryanna Leader, a parent leader from Ouchita Parish, said the recent survey shows that the cost of child care remains high and is often the highest expense for families.

“Rates are especially high for families with infants or different needs and levels of care,” she added.

Families paying for child care without any type of subsidy pay an average of $15,715 for two children, more than one year of college tuition. For families receiving subsidized child care rates, the average cost for two children is almost $9,000 a year.

In 2021 nearly 60 percent of parents surveyed reported receiving subsidized care through the Child Care Assistance Program, an increase from 2020. The program increased its subsidy rates and expanded its eligibility standards in 2021, a “policy win,” Leader said.

However, quality and affordable early childhood education “still remains out of reach for many families,” she said.

Libbie Sonnier, LPIC executive director, said to support Louisiana working families and their employers three steps should be made: increase state investments in early care and education, continue to use federal stimulus and COVID-19 relief funds to stabilize the child care sector and encourage multiple streams of investment into the early care and education system.